Thursday Night Football CBS

As we’ve reported to you earlier this week, Facebook is finally getting serious about live content…..and its the only live content that really matters anymore – NFL football. The social media network’s VP of partnerships confirmed the rumors first reported by tech blog Re/Code.

Facebook’s transformation into focusing intently on video has been extremely fascinating to watch. Algorithms have been changed, a new live video product has been introduced and major content providers are beginning to pay attention as the Zuckerberg machine becomes a major force even Google might not be able to reckon with. But if you asked your average media observer over the past 6 months whether Facebook would ever become a serious contender for live sports in the near future, I doubt you would’ve found anyone who said yes.

The signs have been there though in a sense. Just before the NBA season, the site aired its first live sports broadcast featuring a Cleveland Cavaliers practice. LeBron James also became a major part in Facebook’s video movement individually by creating 360 virtual reality videos exclusive to the site. Not to mention, the recent launch of Facebook’s Sports Stadium signaled a desire to become the center of attention for sports fans live as the action is happening on the field.

So where does Facebook go next? According to Re/Code, the online winner of Thursday Night Football rights will simply simulcast all 18 games expected to air on NFL Network and split between CBS and NBC. Guess what? I don’t believe that. It seems like a strategy too linear and simplistic for Facebook’s tastes.

The challenge of broadcasting primetime football games worldwide online is already hard enough but there’s no doubt that Facebook would want to do more than just be a platform for simulcasting. We live in a world of disruption and Facebook is one of the biggest disruptors of all which is why I’ve decided to come up with some ways that I think FB is going to try and change the way we watch football.

1. Fan Broadcasts

If you’re a fan of Twitch, the video game streaming platform, then you know that most of its popular broadcasts are hosted by ordinary fans on a headset talking about the game they’re playing at the moment. Sometimes you’re watching the game and you simply hear audio of the fan while at other times you can see the fan on the lower right or lower left of your screen as they are describing the action. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Facebook implement their Live feature to do the same thing.

Any fan would have the ability to go live and give their take on the action wherever they are and with whoever they want to through Facebook Live. Their live stream would appear on one corner in a similar design to what we see below (a screenshot of Twitch fan broadcasts) while the game would take up the rest of the screen. Fans could watch an NFL game tailor-made specifically for their specific friends which could increase awareness for Facebook Live and also increase how fans interact with the video they’re watching.
Photo from: Advertising Week Social Club

2. Instagram Live Stories

Facebook’s popular pictures app has recently attempted to take Snapchat’s thunder by implementing a collection of photos and videos from users during specific events or at specific times. The last major effort by Instagram to partake in this exercise was during the Academy Awards when users got a notification in unison during a commercial break near the beginning of the telecast. A similar occurrence could happen every Thursday.

The best Instagram videos and pictures from players, coaches, team’s social media departments, and of course fans can be compiled into one big story to give fans a summation of what the game happened. It would give IG users a way to interact with the NFL’s product even after the game is over and might even give players more cred on the dirty streets of social media. Since phones aren’t allowed, a specific phone connected to the NFL’s account could be utilized on the sidelines for anyone to use at any given time. (Although that could prove to be risky especially if a player rants in a vulgar way like Pacman Jones did after his Bengals lost to the Steelers during the playoffs earlier this year)

3. What’s App Updates

While Facebook’s messaging app hasn’t picked up as much steam domestically as it has internationally, What’s App is still a powerful tool that could be used to help Facebook give viewers a new way to watch football. During the game, a flurry of text messages could be sent to anyone who subscribes to a specific feed prior to the game starting. The text messages would stop after the game was over.

These texts could be in relation to specific players, teams, coaches, injuries, traffic, fans, weather etc. The texts would be sent as necessary and would run almost like a Twitter feed. Before each game, during the telecast, the announcers can make viewers aware of numbers to text if they want to subscribe to a specific temporary text service about a certain topic in association with the football game.

4. Facebook Live

We’ve already kinda sorta mentioned the power of Facebook Live at #1 among fans but imagine how much more powerful it is for anyone who is actually at the game. The access and purview a sideline reporter would be able to provide fans during the game as a second screen experience wouldn’t be like anything we’ve seen before….well, at least depending on how good the reporter is.

CBS’s Tracy Wolfson is already an active Facebook user – she often posts photos from each location she travels to throughout the football season and even did a segment with Bill Cowher for her page at Facebook’s HQ – and would be the perfect person to give this kind of responsibility to. She would help build a bridge between the TV and online broadcasts and could even give fans a chance to chat with players during the game if she’s able to pull someone away to talk during commercial breaks. How cool would that be?

Some other cool things to see would include a camera attached to a player throughout the game, a camera attached to the referee, a pylon cam available throughout the game, Q&A sessions with players during the game, a natural sound game option, a non-traditional announcers option with different major Facebook personalities or celebrities every week, live real-time polls with emoji reactions to every single play or trending topics of the game and so much more.

Now whether Facebook will commit to any of these ideas is unknown. Whether Facebook will even win these rights is not a sure thing. Could Facebook be throwing its hat in the ring just to increase the fees their rivals could potentially pay as CNN’s Brian Stelter speculated? Very possible.

But the two biggest rivals for this package, Amazon and Verizon, are both experimenting with live content among other things and could use the NFL to boost its offerings.

If I had to put a bet on it, I’d say Facebook has a fighting chance. You don’t put out one of your top executives for interviews about a potential deal without something being in the woodworks. At least I don’t think.

What are your ideas for how Facebook could innovate football? They’re a technology company with the means to play around and try something new. Comment below.

About Jessie Karangu

I am a Kenyan-American broadcast journalist.
An avid tweeter (follow me @JMKTV).
I hope to make a difference in the world.
I was the commencement speaker at my college graduation, Scott Van Pelt was the other speaker (
I won an award for outstanding achievement in sports from the Emmy organization.
My dream is to be the black Ryan Seacrest.