Unilad is using Facebook Live to stream mixed martial arts

Starting in November, viral bro publisher Unilad is getting into the sports broadcasting game.

Through a test deal with the British Association Mixed Martial Arts, Unilad will stream on Facebook matches from the No. 3 British mixed marital arts league. The idea is to use Unilad’s broad reach on the platform, where it has 19 million likes, in order to branch into sports broadcasting by matching up with niche sports that appeal to Unilad’s young, male audience.

“I can guarantee them 350,000 views on each individual preliminary fight,” said Liam Harrington, CEO of Unilad. “Currently, these would only get 20,000 views, if that, whereas a big final fight on TV would get 500,000 views, so understandably they were excited.”

(Note: Comparing Facebook views to TV viewership is a fraught exercise since the numbers aren’t comparable because TV measures the average number of people who view a program for 60 seconds while Facebook is simply measuring how many three-second views a video got.)

For now, there’s no commercial agreement between Unilad and BAMMA, and this rights deal will last for one year before it’s up for review. Unilad is looking at where it can sell sponsorship around the fights and there could be a revenue share in the future. (Channel 5 remains the owner of the final fights and the TV broadcast.)

Harrington is confident Unilad can bring in the numbers, believing there’s evidence of appetite to watch live sports in the news feed. This summer Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney broadcast his testimonial match — a non-competitive match that wouldn’t usually be streamed on TV — on Facebook Live. It’s had 4.5 million views. “It’s seriously rare to get that number for a testimonial match,” he added.

In July, Unilad streamed the Homeless Football World Cup, a charity match where all players are homeless. In 2015, the tournament had 6,000 views. Unilad streamed the tournament, roughly four videos at 15 minutes each, and received approximately 500,000 views. With these numbers next year, it’s in a better position to get brand sponsorship.

According to Tubular Labs, Unilad had 2.9 billion Facebook video views during August; it’s often in the top-three rankings for the most-watched media property. On Facebook, it usually adds 280,000 new followers a week. Now 80 percent of the video Unilad publishes is licensed from other creators or media companies. In February, it was closer to half original and half licensed, and the goal is still to produce more original video, but the rights team has grown quicker than expected. The License team has grown from one to five in a year, and Harrington expects another 10 in the next 12 months. Sometimes this work is paid for. Mostly, though, Harrington said people just want to get their content seen. When Facebook introduces more ways to monetize video, this could change.

“It won’t be long before we’re seeing the live broadcast of matches through social media. The challenge will be how to monetize it,” said Christian Baker, digital manager at sponsorship agency Synergy. It will be some time before this is a mainstream sport like Premier League Football, but going for a niche, young sport like Mixed Martial Arts with an online audience gives it more freedom to experiment.

Image: Courtesy of Unilad, via Facebook. 


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