Back in early May, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on an earnings call that Facebook might dabble in live sports rights, but didn’t consider that a long-term goal. Seven months later, that appears to have been total nonsense.
According to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal, Facebook is now seeking a high-level executive whose primary responsibility will be buying sports rights for the social media empire.
Over the past several weeks, Facebook executives have been interviewing candidates for the position, which has been described as a head of sports programming. The executive will report to Dan Reed, Facebook’s global head of sports partnerships.
The executive will oversee a budget of about “a few billion dollars” to buy sports rights on a global basis, sources said.
Facebook, which is building up its “Watch” initiative, has already dived pretty deep into the digital streaming game. They have partnered with MLB on a package of games, carved out a separate agreement with the Cubs, worked with Stadium on college football and college basketball broadcasts, and also aired soccer and cricket.
But all of that might be a mere appetizer to what comes next. As various major rights deals expire in the next few years, Twitter, Amazon and Facebook figure to scoop up more and more events. In some cases, that will mean simulcasting events that also air on linear television, and in other cases it will mean exclusive content that isn’t available elsewhere. Given Zuckerberg’s past comments, it had seemed unlikely that Facebook would bid quite as aggressively as its rivals, but the fact the company is reportedly hiring an executive to handle sports rights suggests that assumption was off-base.
Facebook’s willingness to commit large sums of money to sports rights could drastically hasten the growth of sports live streaming. With deep pockets and unparalleled distribution, Facebook could grab not only stray rights here and there but also major events that TV networks are bidding on. Could Facebook eventually air an NFL game or two every week? An NBA package? An MLB playoff game? If Zuckerberg and company are as serious as they now seem, there’s little reason why not.