Monday, November 29, 2010

NFL and Facebook

About The NFL
The National Football League is a professional American football league consisting of thirty-two teams divided into two conferences- National Football Conference (NFC) and American Football Conference (AFC)- of four divisions (East, North, South, West) each who compete each fall to play in and win the Super Bowl, America’s most watched sporting event annually. The professional league is a multi-billion dollar business is overseen by a commissioner elected by each of the thirty-two members and an executive committee (composed of one representative from each league member). The league formally organized in 1920 under the name American Professional Football Association (APFA). Two years later, APFA changed its name to the National Football League. After three failed attempts to establish a rival league and a fourth resulting in a merger with the NFL, Dallas franchise owner Lamar Hunt successfully created the American Football League (AFL) in 1959. Nearly ten years later, the two leagues formally merged and featured respective league winners in a end-of-season championship match-up, a match-up which would later be deemed the “Super Bowl.” In 1970, the teams of the former American Football League formed the American Football Conference of the National Football League. All other non-AFL franchises formed the National Football Conference of the National Football League.

About Facebook
Facebook is perhaps the most popular social network on the Internet. Launched in February of 2004 by four Harvard University students (Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Hughes, Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin) from their dorm room, the network quickly expanded to other Ivy League schools such as Columbia University and Yale University as well as Stanford University on the west coast. The company received financial backing from Accel Partners, Greylock Partners, Meritech Capital Partners, and others in 2005 and 2006. Initially designed for college students, the company opened up to high school students and older users. The network also expanded into news coverage by partnering with ABC News to cover the 2008 U.S. Presidential Debates and integrating with CNN beginning in 2009.

Facebook is an online social network that connects users to other users, namely their family, friends, and acquaintances. After registering with the web site, Facebook directs the user to set up an account including common elements such as a profile picture, information (gender, birthday, political/religious views, education and work, likes and interests), and photographs. Once set, a user can “friend” another user by sending a “friend request.” The new “friends” can then post messages on the walls of each others’ profile or send messages via Facebook inbox. They may also share uploaded links to other Internet web sites, tag each other in photographs or notes, and even “chat” which is Facebook’s own answer to Instant Messenger. Businesses, non-profit organizations, musicians, celebrities and other entities can set up a Facebook Page by which to promote their product, service, or image and better communicate with their customer or fan.

NFL on Facebook

Simon Heseltine of SearchEngineWatch offers some numbers in terms of fans who like the NFL’s Facebook pages: “The average NFL Facebook page has 368,932 fans, with the St. Louis Rams being the team with the least support at 53,745, and the Dallas Cowboys coming in at the top of the pile with 5,556,766 fans.”

Paula Duffy of the Sports Examiner reports that NFL teams are using the social networking site as a tool to run background checks on draft prospects. She writes of one incident involving one team: “In one case, the Minnesota Vikings found disturbing photos of a prospect that included him sitting on the floor with piles of drug and cash… the young man was grilled on the subject and apparently the team was satisfied with his explanation after investigation.” Duffy details one tactic that at least one franchise uses on new prospects; that of the “ghost profile.” If the prospect accepts the “ghost” as a friend, then the team has access to his profile. This is easily a trickle-down sentiment from Commissioner Roger Goodell who has strove to clean up the NFL’s off-the-field image.

In an interview with Elaine Wong for Brandweek, NFL Online General Manager Laura Goldberg explained why the league used social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter so aggressively in the time leading up to the 2009 Draft: "I would call it fan engagement. The fans are incredibly engaged in the draft and all things NFL. Frankly, they want more and more information." Goldberg goes on to explain that the NFL launched a Facebook Widget that "has news and information and videos and on the day of the Draft, it will put each pick as it happens so you can follow it from your Facebook page as well." This is all of a bigger effort by the NFL to expand fan involvement. Chris Crum of WebProNews adds that Goldberg comments, "It's to get more people coming to our site more often and to get those people more engaged and by more engaged, it's more page views, more videos and to have them spend more time on our site." Clearly, beyong greater fan involvement lies the NFL's motivation to attract more visitors to its website which is why it posts breaking news headlines and videos on its Facebook Page wall as links which take the visitor back to

The NFL is currently using its Facebook Page to encourage fans to vote for the 2011 Pro Bowl coming up at the end of January. Some individual NFL players have taken the initiative to launch a Facebook campaign for their fans' votes. Jennifer Van Grove  of Mashable reports that before last year's Pro Bowl, New York Giants Wide Receiver Steve Smith encourage his fans' involvement by sponsoring a contest with prizes such as tickets, paid hotel fare and paid air fare to the Pro Bowl for the winner.

Despite the NFL's embrace of social media, the league announced at the start of the 2009 regular season certain restrictions for players, coaches, officials, and other game day personnel. The NFL declared that tweeting and other social media activity was permitted up until 90 minutes to kick-off and after formal post-game press conferences. Any kind of social media activity during the game is prohibited. This is an effort on the part of the NFL to curtail rampant breaking news from players as well as incorrect statements passed off as news.

The Future
I believe that the NFL and other professional sports leagues will continue to expand into social media platforms and integrate them with mainstream news outlets in news coverage.

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