Facebook Live Football Is First Move in Bleacher Report's Play for Millennial Sports Fans

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Bleacher Report's Facebook page.
Bleacher Report's Facebook page. Credit: Bleacher Report/Facebook

The 18-to-25-year-old human is a mystery to the sports establishment. They don't watch three-hour games on TV or buy season tickets, preferring e-sports and fantasy drafts to the perfectly executed live event.

But there are too many of them to ignore, and sports executives are eager to capture their attention. Time Warner's Bleacher Report -- not a traditional sports broadcaster -- will introduce its play for the millennial sports fan on Friday with a Facebook Live stream of a game at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, a high school known for a coach who almost never punts.

To anyone used to college or pro football, the broadcast, originally announced in September, could look a little messy. The show is designed to be fast, bordering on frantic, with video shot from drones and GoPro mini cameras, plus live polls, contests and instant statistics generated by tracking sensors on players. Coach Kevin Kelley will wear a microphone and talk through his decision-making every time his team faces a fourth down.

"I don't think Bill Belichick is signing up to do that," says Marc Kohn, Bleacher Report's senior director of video and live events, adding that his definition of success is "a broadcast that is incredibly creative and pushes boundaries."

Some of the schools get paid for participating, but Mr. Kohn wouldn't say how much Bleacher Report is spending on the project. Mr. Kohn is trying to figure out how to integrate brands into the broadcast, which for now do not include advertising.

Along with Twitter's recent multimillion-dollar investments in pro sports rights, the games are a sign of growing interest in sports programming that can reach cord-cutters and, increasingly, cord-nevers. Amazon.com and Google's YouTube have talked with pro sports leagues and media companies like The Tennis Channel about carrying live sporting events.

And while big-time sports will probably come to Facebook eventually -- the company had early conversations with the National Football League for its Thursday night digital rights, a deal that eventually went to Twitter for $10 million – so far, Facebook Live has become a home for extra content. The Cleveland Cavaliers, for instance, went live from their locker room after winning the National Basketball Association title.

Facebook says its users watch 100 million hours of video per day, 75% of which is on mobile devices. Facebook Live videos draw 10 times more comments than videos posted elsewhere online, a metric that suggests a more invested audience.

For Bleacher Report, which began as a network of bloggers and other sports sites, the games are part of a $100 million expansion into original video. After the Pulaski Academy game, the producers will travel to Antioch (California) High School, home of Najee Harris, one of the nation's top-rated running backs. The third game features the football team from IMG Academy, the Bradenton, Florida, boarding school for elite athletes. Dates for the next two games are yet to be determined.

-- Bloomberg News

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