Facebook, USA Basketball Partnered on the Road to Rio

Men’s and women’s exhibition games were live-streamed

Before winning gold at Rio 2016, the USA men’s and women’s basketball teams played exhibition games in preparation, games that streamed live on Facebook.

From July 22 to Aug. 1, Facebook streamed five men’s and four women’s games against international challengers. The games were live-streamed on the NBA and the USA Basketball Facebook pages, as well as the NBA TV site. Although that last option required authentication, the two Facebook pages were open to all.

Facebook USA Basketball streamingAlthough partnering by social platforms and sports is still in the experimental phase, the goal is to create new options for fans to watch their favorite teams. As ReCode reported, the nine exhibition games attracted 7 million views (a view being a viewing session of at least three seconds). Of the nine games, the top draw was the men’s match against China on July 24.

Facebook has made video a central focus and welcomes the experimentation taking place with sports broadcasters.

“Our mission is to connect fans to the content they love most,” says Devi Mahadevia, head of global sports league partnerships, Facebook. “With 650 million sports fans on Facebook globally, we are excited to uncover more innovative ways to provide fans with a unique, immersive, and engaging experience. Sports partners globally — leagues, teams, media, athletes — continue to test various formats of live content on our platform — from interviews and Q&As to behind-the-scenes on game days to live games — to drive new areas of growth, fan reach, and engagement.”

To watch the live games, Facebook members needed to be a fan of the NBA or USA Basketball. Then the videos appeared automatically in their newsfeeds. It’s a simpler interface than hunting down a stream on Twitter. Although Mahadevia can’t say exactly what lessons the basketball live streams taught the video team at Facebook, she notes, “We are constantly learning from all of our partners, from sports to entertainment to news, around how people interact with live content and assessing product changes to create the best experience.”

Facebook USA Basketball pageFacebook has paid deals in place with some publishers and content owners, but the exhibition basketball games weren’t a paid arrangement. Verizon was the presenting sponsor, and the payment went to the NBA, not Facebook. The NBA and NBA TV produced the games and all related branded-content integration, then delivered the feed to Facebook using the Live API. The NBA handled the ads during the events, as well as third-party branding elements. Hosts mentioned that Verizon would supply content in the commercial breaks, and the NBA included branding in all segments with preproduced video or in-arena streams.

The NBA used Livestream software for some of the events and Tricaster for others, but Facebook didn’t work with any outside vendors on these videos.

A big part of succeeding on social platforms is using their toolsets to create a unique experience for the viewer. A Facebook stream needs to feel distinctly like a Facebook stream.

“Facebook Live has interactive elements built into the product, such as Live Reactions and inviting friends to watch the Live. These features are available for all live videos on the platform,” Mahadevia explains. “Live Reactions makes it easy for your viewers to express their feelings in real time during a live broadcast. Using the same reactions, we launched in News Feed; viewers can select Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, or Angry; and the reactions animate right on top of the video. Live Reactions disappear quickly so broadcasters and other viewers can get a sense of how people are feeling at different points during the live video. It’s like hearing the crowd applaud and cheer. When your friend reacts to your video or to a video you are both watching together, you’ll see their profile pic and a little starburst before their reaction appears.”

The big question for the Facebook team going into these games was, do people want to watch long, live sports events on its platform? The results put a smile on their faces.

“Initial results indicated that fans are interested in engaging with longer-form sports content on our platform and that we can help support viewership globally,” Mahadevia explains. “We will continue to explore these kinds of experiences and help partners develop innovative content strategies on Facebook to drive more fan reach and engagement.”

That’s good news for sports fans, because it means more live games coming to the social network — hopefully, with no authentication required.

Says Mahadevia, “We will continue to test various forms of live sports content on Facebook with our partners.”

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