The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the first sport to demonstrate the power of streaming live sports from within Facebook – and the league is just getting started.
Last January, the UFC showed four preliminary bouts live on Facebook for its Fight for the Troops 2 show. Since then, the league has continued to live stream almost every preliminary fight for its championship events (UFC 129-134). This approach has contrasted strongly to those of other major sports, most recently Major League Baseball (see below). As a result, the UFC is creating a model for other leagues to follow – one that focuses squarely on the fan’s experience. For example, each embedded live stream offers full-screen mode, spanish or english audio, and an unheard of four bit rates (3000, 1600, 8000, 400 kbps). Additionally, it leverages Facebook’s built-in comment tool for fans to “live chat” during a fight. It looks good and works great.
How has this impacted the UFC? For a league that doesn’t even rank within the top five in terms of annual revenue, the UFC now ranks 2nd among major U.S. sports with over 6.2 million “likes” on its Facebook page, trailing only the NBA at 10.4 million.
The UFC isn’t the first league to try live streaming from within Facebook this year. As reported last March, the MLB flirted with the idea by offering select spring training games for view. However, the “experiment” failed in large part because the strategy was to lure fans away from Facebook to purchase its MLB.TV product.
I believe that when given a choice, fans will prefer to watch live sports online using a social platform (Facebook) over that of a non-social platform (MLB.TV, ESPN360.com, and Sunday Night Football on NBC.com). The UFC is starting to prove that theory true; now it just needs to show the model can also be profitable.