Podcast: Insights on Facebook Live from SportBible’s Paul Rayner

Live-streaming has become one of the hottest topics in digital these days. From those interested in where the media rights for live sport end up, to publishers trying to get their videos out to as many people as possible, the lure of Facebook and Twitter’s live broadcast functions is massive.

The problem is, how should they be used?

We have seen plenty of sports who haven’t always been able to count on big-name TV channels to show their live action in days gone by turn to digital in order to broadcast their events to more people than ever using social media platforms. The question has always been about getting as much reach as possible, and the likes of Table Tennis England and the FA Women’s Super League have been able to bypass traditional broadcasters with some of their output in favour of giving a selection of their wares to a potentially larger audience on Facebook.

Indeed, the likes of the World Surf League and the Crossfit world championships have seen their popularity soar thanks to an interested digital audience: something which never happened in the days before the internet.

The question, though, is how to actually broaden your reach with these platforms, and some federations and leagues are turning to big online publishers with large reach on Facebook and Twitter to promote their events.

Paul Rayner, Publisher at SportBible, part of the LADBible group, talked to Dan McLaren on the Digital Sport Insider podcast this week about this issue and plenty more, including his company’s sponsorship of F1 team Sahara Force India and his unique perspective from having worked on a diverse range of magazines in print before moving into digital publishing with SportBible.

The topic of live-streaming provided some interesting insights. SportBible have almost 10.5m likes on Facebook, and so they’re in the perfect position to provide a massive audience for live sporting events, but it’s not as simple as getting the rights and putting them out live on your Facebook page.

“The challenge for us is to pick and choose the right partners to work with,” he said on the podcast. “It would be very easy to respond to one of the daily emails I get from a federation, a league or a club and to put that out. But if our audience fundamentally aren’t interested in it, or if the only way we could make them interested in it would be to just devote a huge amount of resource into building up, say water polo, then that’s just not where we are. If you do that, and then the audience figures are poor, there’s just no point – there’s no point for that federation or league, and there’s certainly no point for us.”

There’s the first lesson. The ability to reach masses of people is one thing, but it has to be the right fit. If the audience isn’t interested then what seemed like a win-win situation where the federation would get an audience and the publisher would get media rights turns into a lose-lose one, where nobody gets what they want out of it. At SportBible, Rayner says, they are very choosy about what they put out.

“Clearly a huge amount of our content is football based,” he said, “so we have, this year, done a few interesting football related lives of which there will be more ongoing.”

A South American World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Colombia was one such live event and tied in well with the SportBible’s audience. But beyond doing deals with the right sports and the right events, there are also quite a few hurdles and learnings to come out of the actual streaming itself.

“We didn’t know we were doing that game until two days before,” said Rayner. “We were asked to do it and I had only just joined. Then ten minutes before it was due to go live, I was texting the person who was at the game – who didn’t speak English – asking ‘is this actually going to happen?’ because there were technical issues. So there was no chance to do any promotion of it whatsoever, not even a countdown time – our audience didn’t even know it was happening! We put it out, just after midnight on a Wednesday / early Thursday morning and it did 2.2m views.”

“If we’d been able to do some promotion for that, it would have been fascinating to know what we could’ve done.”

That promotion part is becoming increasingly important. It’s vital in the obvious, advertising sense: you need to tell people you’re doing something so that they look out for it, or so that they tune in. But it’s also crucial for creating a story, and many sports are beginning to understand that the soap opera, and the narrative around the live events are almost as important as the sport itself.

Even with the biggest events like Premier League football, people will tune in to watch the games to see what happens or to support their team, but there’s also a sense in which they’re tuning in to find out the next chapter in the saga. Will the league leaders drop points? Will one of the big teams drop into a deeper crisis? Will the latest bright young thing progress as we all hope?

But for the kind of sports that are using live-streams in order to boost reach and create awareness, it’s about creating those same sorts of storylines and raising the profile of their athletes, too.

“The best way to present a live is not just to drop it in like we did with Brazil Colombia, but to present a narrative around it,” says Rayner of how the SportBible have been able to use more than just one social media platform to promote events in a way that’s beneficial both for their own numbers and the profile of the sport they’re showing.

“It’s a Facebook Live, but it’s also via our Instagram, our Twitter feed, someone also doing Snapchat as well. And then using the site to build up to it.”

The lesson is in being holistic in the approach to a live event, both for rights holders as well as for publishers. Live-streaming on social media platforms can be a vehicle for huge growth, as we’ve seen in some examples, but there’s a lot of thought that has to go into the promotion and execution of the stream.

Listen to the rest of the podcast for even more insight from Paul and Dan.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 831 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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