Eleven Sports streams soccer matches for free on Facebook to lure new subscribers

Streaming sports programming service Eleven Sports will livestream at least one soccer game a week from either the top Spanish and Italian leagues to Facebook in the hope that those people who watch them will be tempted to become subscribers. Eleven Sports will use the viewing data to retarget ads for its own subscription service to those people who watched it, said one of the sources.

Soccer rights aren’t cheap, and for an upstart service that launched last month, Eleven sports can’t afford to hive them off to a small number of subscribers when those matches could be used to woo non-subscribers.

“Facebook knows broadcasters are wary of having to pay for reach, but there’s value to be gained if they distribute the content there to learn about their audiences,” said the source.

Eleven Sports declined to comment.

While any content publisher can retarget viewers with ads, Facebook is pushing the feature to sports media owners in the hope they will agree to host their content on the platform, said one executive familiar with those discussions on condition of anonymity. Rather than use money to secure content, Facebook is looking at value in kind deals, said the executive.

Rights-holders are currently open to those deals because Facebook is willing to share a large potential audience as well as sophisticated data with them that can be used to serve fans with more of the things they want, said Mike Flynn, CEO of sports marketing agency DataPowa.

It’s the main reason BT Sports has livestreamed both the Champions League and Europa League finals to soccer fans on YouTube for the last three years.

“It is rare for rights-owners to do contra-deals without cash unless they are compelled to by regulators,” said Flynn. “But the deals Facebook is striking show the value of data in the modern media and sports market.”

Facebook appears to be testing four separate ways to monetize sports content rather than risk alienating some media owners with a focus on one approach: sharing data with media owners for retargeting is one model; another model is when sports rights owners sell sponsorships against the incremental audience their content on Facebook attracts; the third model sees the social network sub-license content from a broadcaster like CBS to experiment with new ways of streaming sports to users; the fourth model stems from the social network reaching out to rights holders that don’t have distribution in certain markets and agrees to provide it in exchange for the content like when it took all 15 matches of the International Cricket Court’s Champion Trophy cricket tournament earlier this year to 42 markets where it wasn’t shown.

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