Facebook reportedly withdrew a bid to carry Thursday NFL games, apparently because the way it would have had to handle commercials didn’t work for the social media network, according to Bloomberg News. The company declined to comment.
Last season, Yahoo secured the rights to stream a football game played in London. It boasted an audience of 15.2 million unique viewers, who watched a cumulative 460 million minutes of the match between Jacksonville and Buffalo. When the NFL said it would sell the streaming rights to Thursday night games, many thought Facebook would be a good fit. After all, the company recently launched a sports-centric section of its site called “Sports Stadium” and has increased its focus on live events.
But although Facebook may have seemed like a good potential home for Thursday night football, if the Bloomberg report is correct, it isn't a huge surprise that the company walked away, said Forrester analyst James McQuivey.
According to the Bloomberg report, it sounded as if the NFL wanted to essentially put its traditional telecast in a streaming format online. But, McQuivey said, the past has shown us that there are different expectations for traditional media on the Internet.
"You can't just pour old wine into a new bottle," he said. "You have to take the opportunity to say, 'What can we do in a new playground?'"
Facebook's platform could offer a streaming partner a lot of information on how users are watching and how they behave during games, McQuivey said. Although landing a live sports deal would have helped Facebook fill a common gap for a cord-cutting audience, the company may have wanted a little more flexibility than the NFL was offering.
"I would imagine that Facebook would have been open to experimenting," he said. "The least interesting thing to do is cramming a television-like format into a streaming environment."
It also is true that the deal described in the Bloomberg piece is fairly different from the way that Facebook normally does business. Although Yahoo may have been willing to shell out a reported $20 million in rights fees to stream the Jaguars-Bills game, Facebook doesn’t traditionally pay to host content on its site; it uses its audience of nearly 1.5 billion users as its prime bargaining chip. If Facebook couldn't experiment with the telecast, it makes sense that the company wouldn't want to spend millions for something that doesn't appear to mesh all that well with the social network, McQuivey said.
Forrester analyst Jim Nail added that the upside for Facebook in an NFL deal could be fairly limited. Facebook, he said, is probably aware of who the real sports fans in its network are -- and gets NFL advertising dollars. Plus, with Facebook catering to an international audience, he said, American football may not be the best sport option for the company. "Maybe Facebook should focus on soccer instead to help drive global penetration," Nail said.