Facebook is spending $25M to show you live baseball — here’s why

On April 11 of this year, I turned on the Milwaukee Brewers game. Not on broadcast TV, not on cable TV, and not even on the radio. On Facebook. Yep, Facebook’s newest product (Facebook Watch) livestreamed my beloved Brewers against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Facebook is spending an estimated $25–30 million broadcasting 25 Major League Baseball games this year, and here's my hypothesis as to why: In listening to the announcers while watching the game, one thing instantly struck me — they were prompting the Facebook Watch livestreaming crowd with questions such as:

  • “If the Brewers are competitive in July, who would you like to see them trade for?”
  • “Will the Cardinals have a better or worse record than last year?”
  • “With Corey Knebel still out as the Brewers’ closer for several more weeks, do you suggest the Brewers use a designated closing pitcher or use a closer-by-committee approach?”

Since a chat window is automatically open alongside the video broadcast of the game, users began responding with their comments while signed in with their Facebook account.

The action in the chat window was both vast and varied. The announcers began mentioning (by name) some of the people commenting and said, “Interesting, Dan!” or “Great insight, Barbara!” Imagine, the announcers of a sporting event actually responding to your specific questions/comments directly on the air! How cool is that?

Wait, though. They also said this: “If you’d like to just see the comments from the fans of the team you’re rooting for, go to that team’s [Facebook] page and click ‘Watch Live’ from there.”

Why would the announcers say that? Going a step further, why would Facebook spend the money to not just license the broadcast of these games, but also pay for their own announcers?

Disclaimer: I don’t have a direct line into Facebook HQ. Facebook has, however, shown a distinct pattern of behavior when it comes to a cornerstone of its business: data collection. Facebook isn’t just dipping its toe into the live baseball broadcast business as a reason to spend its money. In this case, it’s not acting as a cash-rich tech company that is simply buying up complementary businesses, although it does participate in that market periodically with acquisitions such as Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus Rift. 

Like many strategic decisions Facebook makes, it’s buying eyeballs. It’s buying people’s attention, and with attention they’re gathering data — lots of it. Broadcasting live baseball on Facebook is a data-collection play.

Because those who watch games on Facebook Watch need to both login to Facebook and choose an entry “portal” (e.g., a team page) Facebook is actively gathering data on each decision you make as a viewer of that particular live event.

(Continued)

 

You know all that talk we hear about social media algorithms? This is how engineers build them. They use a bunch of Boolean logic such as IF, AND, and THEN statements. “IF Spencer watches the Brewers game from the team Facebook page AND watches more than three innings of baseball AND engages in conversation in the chat window, THEN add Spencer to group 32,” or however the algorithm designates those who exhibit that specific behavior.

Let’s say I become a member of group 32 as a result of my behavior. Am I more or less likely to respond favorably to an advertisement with the Brewers in it? Yep, you guessed it right — much more. Facebook is collecting data on each respective team’s biggest fans and selling access to those fans. Whether that access is offered to Major League Baseball, a team itself, or someone trying to reach that audience, Facebook will have more in-depth data than anyone else broadcasting live baseball, especially traditional media like Fox Sports or ESPN.

What do you think of my assessment of Facebook’s $25 million investment? Agree or disagree in the comments section below.

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