Saturday, February 14, 2015

Facebook Launches Sports Desk, AOL Teams Up with Players Tribune

Two of the world's biggest publishers of content made major moves this past week to solidify themselves as destinations for sports fans.

Facebook, the top referrals site on the web, announced the launch of a new social sports desk. The social network will be taking the desk to big events. The desk could potentially host Q&A's, such as the sessions currently posted with Harrison Barnes, Victor Cruz and Lolo Jones as well as other supplementary programming which will help promote major games while providing user engagement via video between famous sports figures and their fans. The new initiative was introduced during Facebook's first ever sports summit.

The most interesting thing about the desk, as pointed out by CNBC, is how similar the look is to traditional TV and offerings that are already available such as "SportsCenter" and "Fox Sports Live." But according to Facebook, they are only looking to strengthen their relationships with sports leagues and the network partners who own their rights. This is not an attempt by Facebook to compete against them but rather a way to collaborate with them.

You're more likely to see a Facebook sports desk program feature personalities from ESPN, Turner or Fox than Facebook hiring a slew of it's own sports journalists. Facebook will also only use the desk and produce sports video for the site as needed. The sports desk will not be a daily feature added onto the site.


The first big example of Facebook's foray into sports since the announcement was a partnership between Turner Sports, the NBA and Facebook. Turner hired comedian JB Smoove to interview some of the NBA's young rising stars in quick 5-7 minute clips and ran the interviews on the NBA's Facebook page to promote the 2015 All-Star Game. The interviews included questions submitted by fans.

Turner Sports previously collaborated with Facebook during the MLB Playoffs last season and helped integrate content being posted by players and fans on FB and Instagram onto Turner's pre- and post-game broadcasts. Facebook has also partnered with Sky Sports and BT Sport, two rival British sports TV networks, to promote their sports programming via video chats hosted on their Facebook pages which gave users a chance to interact with the two networks' own respective hosts and analysts.
Facebook wants to give fans a chance to feel more connected to the action and is partnering with leagues and networks on a non-exclusive basis. This new initiative is also being established to help grow their original video content production. While these partnerships are non-exclusive and the leagues/networks have free reign to partner with other social networks, the content and videos they post on Facebook as well as broadcasts in which the social sports desk is being included will be exclusive to their Facebook pages as well as Facebook's sports website, "Sports on Facebook." The company also announced that they will be turning on their "trending hub," which curates content about a specific topic, for all NBA and NHL games for the rest of the season.

AOL also made a huge step in it's push for sports content by teaming up with Derek Jeter's website The Players Tribune.
As part of the partnership, AOL will distribute The Players' Tribune content on and across AOL's network of 92M monthly unique viewers*; co-produce exclusive content on both platforms; and co-produce sporting events together throughout the year to bring the offline experience to life for fans online.
With this collaboration, AOL could solidify its place as a must-see website for sports fans given their access to ESPN highlights combined with exclusive access from players who play the games courtesy of The Players Tribune. 

AOL is also on the verge of launching its own sports show featuring the winner of the "AOL Sports Search," Nick Creegan. The show will aim to be the internet's version of "SportsCenter" but will focus on the social, viral side of things. Could this new AOL/Players Tribune partnership provide AOL Sports' new show with access to star athletes for exclusive interviews which they may not be inclined to give to another outlet?

This is also a huge move for T.P.T. Why? Because they've been lacking on the video side. AOL is an experienced producer of online video content and also has a wide distribution base which will help any videos from T.P.T spread like wildfire across the web.

Right now, Facebook and AOL seem solely interested in helping drive the conversation for sports fans instead of airing live sports. Facebook has confirmed to Sports Business Daily's John Ourand that they will not bid for the NFL game being offered over the top while AOL hasn't given any indication that they're interested in bidding either. 

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