Coming to Snapchat: live sports broadcasting

Snapchat has grand ambitions to become a dominant mobile media platform, and it has taken one step closer with live sports.

The popular messaging and media-consumption app is working to forge media-rights deals with sports leagues and broadcast networks, including the NCAA and Turner, so it can feature live sports in its “Our Story” feature, starting with the NCAA Final Four, according to multiple media executives familiar with the plans.

The partnership will begin with the Final Four, but there are plans to expand it to other NCAA sporting events in the future.

Snapchat is looking to sell brand sponsorships for these stories and plans to split ad revenue among the sports leagues, the broadcasters and itself, according to one executive involved in negotiations. Turner is said to be close to finalizing sponsorship deals for the Final Four Stories, according to the executives.

While the Final Four deal involves both the NCAA and Turner, it’s an exception. In almost all other instances, Snapchat is looking to create media-rights deals with just the sports leagues.

Snapchat declined to comment on the record. The NCAA did not return a request for comment at time of press, and Turner declined to comment.

“It’s a brilliant move,” Rohit Thawani, director of digital strategy and social media at ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, told Digiday. “Snapchat is turning into the SportsCenter of cultural moments. Remember how awesome it was when you’d go to a ball game and you’d make a sign with something funny on it and hope that it made it onto the Jumbotron or, even better, ESPN? Well, Snapchat is doing that with the NCAA and Chinese New Year, Diwali and any other significant moment in time.”

snapchat world cup
Two female Germany fans show their support for the national soccer team on Snapchat during the World Cup last summer.

Launched in July 2014, Our Story allows Snapchat to splice together “snaps” — photo and video messages — from willing users, thus turning them into a curated, multimedia story available to all Snapchat users. Every Story revolves around a specific event. Sporting events are particularly popular. Snapchat released a Story for the World Cup final game last summer and released several college football-related Stories throughout the season last fall. Some of those Stories even featured locker-room footage taken by NCAA football players themselves.

So far, Snapchat has been creating these sports-related Stories guerilla-style, without the explicit permission of the leagues themselves. Problem is, sports leagues are famously cautious about how and where their games are broadcast. By looking to establish media-rights deals with leagues and their broadcast partners, Snapchat is attempting to legitimize Stories and avoid any media-rights infringement issues.

It was not clear whether Snapchat has run into any such issues. What is clear, however, is that Snapchat is now set on conquering live-sports events by way of crowdsourced photos and video produced by its users and assembled by its in-house editorial team.

Despite working with some broadcast networks, Snapchat is not planning to splice in game footage recorded by those networks. Stories will remain entirely user-generated and curated by Snapchat’s own team, but now with the approval of the leagues and, when needed, the leagues’ broadcast partners.

So when Madness takes hold of college basketball next month, Snapchat users will be privy to college students’ on-the-ground views of the pandemonium.

This Story development is separate from Snapchat’s media channel Discover, which launched at the end of January and features text, photos and video from media companies such as Comedy Central, ESPN, National Geographic and Vice.

As such, the Story media rights deals will involve some networks that are not currently a part of Discover.

Snapchat has sold sponsorships for Stories in the past, such as when Amazon and Hollister co-sponsored a Story about the 2014 Black Friday shopping holiday. Those daylong ads run $750,000 a pop, according to Adweek.

This news is just the latest instance of Snapchat’s quick maturation from “sexting app” to media and tech industry darling. It has been embraced by Madison Avenue and publishers alike, with Daily Mail North America CEO Jon Steinberg saying Snapchat has been the best platform partner he’s ever worked with, including Facebook and Twitter.

“A year ago it was, ‘Wow, you have that creepy thing on your phone?’ This year, people are saying, ‘We have to try it,’” Matt Heindl, senior director of social media marketing at digital agency Razorfish, told Digiday in an interview in January. “If Snapchat can get a brand as conservative as McDonald’s to advertise, it refutes the idea that it’s a flashing porn app.”

At this point, anyone who still describes Snapchat is (just) a vehicle for naked selfies is plainly misinformed.

With its push into live sports, Snapchat is poised to become a TV network, a publishing network, a social network, an original media creator and an e-commerce platform, all within one self-contained app.

Image courtesy Getty Images

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