A funny thing happened on my way to Facebook’s Sports Stadium: I couldn’t find it.
That was just the first indication that the world’s largest social network has a ways to go to attract a flood of real-time posts from sports fans. The newest feature for Facebook’s iPhone app (Android to come later) promises to turn your phone into a hub for whatever big game is going on. When you turn on Sports Stadium, the screen is flooded with the competing teams’ colors, friends’ commentaries and real-time stats about what’s going on.
But first you have to find it. See, there isn’t a dedicated tab for Sports Stadium on the main screen of Facebook’s mobile app like there is for the News Feed and Messages. Instead, you have to tap on the search bar and type in the name of a particular team. In this case, I picked the New England Patriots, a slight favorite heading into Sunday’s AFC championship game, and went on the team’s verified Facebook page.
Then, I had to tap on a nondescript football icon set next to a description of the game. Only then did I finally find my way to what I was looking for.
No one will debate Facebook’s intentions. Sporting events are becoming an even bigger part of our lives, and the technology industry is looking for new ways to capitalize on that. In less than a decade, we’ve gone from watching sports in person or on TV to being able to access live streams on our smartphones and tablets anywhere in the world.
If that isn’t enough, some of the first experiments in virtual reality were live videos of sporting events. Amazon’s digital assistant Siri can give you live sports scores. And we’ve seen how fantasy football-focused (and embattled) websites like DraftKings and FanDuel suffocated us with commercials, even before the first game was played this season.
Now Facebook, with its new Sports Stadium, wants even more of our attention, especially as with the Super Bowl just two weeks away.
But it isn’t a lock for Facebook at the start. Twitter, the perennial second-banana at about a fifth Facebook’s size, has already become the center of major sporting events. To get fans to switch away, Facebook will need to offer a compelling reason.
Facebook’s Stadium features, including Matchup (featuring a quick recap of each play in real-time and related videos), Experts (posts from a select group of journalists, such as Sports Illustrated’s football guru Peter King, fans and others) and a pretty clean Stats (easily readable) are all very colorful and rich.
But something was missing in the Friends section — my friends. Almost no one was posting anything. Meanwhile, Twitter was lighting up with more commentary than I could keep track of.
To be sure, this is one of Sports Stadium’s first attempts. Facebook will have the next two weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50 to do some tweaking and maybe add a quick tutorial to help users find and fill up its Stadium. Facebook isn’t known for taking half-measures, and I’m sure they’ll be in this game for the long haul.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.
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Eventually, I tried to jump start the Stadium conversation on Facebook with a post just after the game began, asking if any of my friends were going to try the new feature while watching the game. Crickets. Perhaps many of them, especially those who live on the East Coast and are dealing with the major snowstorm, have more pressing issues.
So, I encouraged a fraternity brother who typically comments on sporting events via group text or other platforms such as GroupMe and Messenger, to try Stadium too.
He likes the features, but he said it “takes a minute for my posts to show in the Friends stream after submission.” He also noticed that posts were updating at irregular intervals.
As the three-hour game went on, I occasionally found myself texting with him on my phone and even glancing at GroupMe and Twitter.
Eventually, a few more of my friends joined, including another rather opinionated fraternity brother who said he “would rather have Donald Trump as president than to see New England win.” He got his wish. The Broncos beat the Pats in a 20-18 nail-biter.
Well, at least my friends were starting to post on Facebook.