We are past the tipping point of digital properties becoming heavily involved in the distribution of sports content. The only thing companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple haven’t done is get exclusive rights to game content. Social and digital media’s sweet spot right now is additive content and Facebook was a prime example of this during the NBA All-Star festivities.
Facebook had nearly complete coverage off the court. One example, Facebook Live, had a dedicated social booth where athletes stopped in and connected with millions of fans. This type of access is something only Facebook could achieve through its global reach. The booth was similar to a video version of the “Ask Me Anything” made famous by Reddit. Athletes who like to interact directly with fans — rather than go through normal media channels — were given the chance to more deeply engage with NBA followers. Stars who took advantage of this opportunity included Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul and Paul George. Once this type of fan engagement proves fruitful, sponsors, partners and endorsers will be able to connect with fans simply by having the athlete drop a few brand mentions here or there. It’s similar to what social media star DJ Khaled does on Snapchat.
Facebook was also involved in breaking news and press conferences. Fans were able to watch NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s address live, and see post-game comments from the competitors. NBA diehards didn’t have to be in front of a television to hear what was said. They simply could log on to their computer, tablet or mobile device. This is a simpler way to connect with fans. They don’t have to search for a channel on their TV, and if they’d like they can use Facebook as a second screen option for additive coverage.
Finally, Facebook partnered with The Vertical and Adrian Wojnarowski. Woj — as he is known to everyone who follows basketball closely — was able to promote his new media venture and Facebook benefited from his insider access. This is especially important since the trade deadline and the All-Star game are within days of each other.
Digital distribution as a consumption medium is already here. Facebook is showing that it can act as a conduit between players and fans. Games can be watched on cable, but insider access is available via the internet. All of these steps are attempts to prove digital and social media are viable options to connect to fan bases — especially younger fan bases — that are more technologically savvy.
Every time something like this goes off without a hitch, we are one step closer to a league trusting a tech company with full distribution rights. Cord cutters are making this type of distribution mechanism necessary, but companies like Facebook are helping to push digital distribution along as well. It’s now a question of when — not if — these companies distribute games as well.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.