Facebook Goes for Goal With Potential Ronaldo Show on Watch

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Facebook is looking to garner a much larger foothold in the sports space — and is turning to yet another household name to drive the bold strategy.

While many of those new, dynamic initiatives have been blowing up our newsfeeds over the past year, the biggest of which may be a new partnership with global soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. As Variety reported earlier last week, Facebook has been in talks with Ronaldo — the world’s third highest-paid athlete of 2018 with $108 million in total earnings — about adding a TV-style reality docu-series based on the star’s incredible life and career.

While it’s unclear how far the discussions have gone, as all sides have stayed remarkably quiet about the potential project, Variety and others have reported that Facebook is aiming to produce 13 episodes for the platform, with Ronaldo earning a cool $10 million per installment. That would be Facebook’s biggest original content play by leaps and bounds.

The show would be produced by Matador Content and Religion of Sports, which may have actually played a large role in paving the way for a deal of this magnitude to materialize. That firm, founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan, and Tom Brady is what brought us Facebook Watch’s incredibly popular docu-series “Tom vs. Time.” The show chronicled the life and times of the inimitable New England Patriots quarterback just before the Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles, and has generated over 52 million views.

“Tom vs. Time,” in addition to other Facebook Original sports-based content like “Ball in the Family,” based on LaVar Ball, his son Lonzo, and their various shenanigans on and off the hardcourt, have done quite well on the Facebook Watch platform. That show is now entering its third season with its official page gaining over 1.5 million followers to date.

Building on those initiatives, the series with Ronaldo stands to be much more lucrative for the social media giant, as he has global recognition and worldwide appeal unsurpassed by many.

Unlike Tom Brady and LaVar Ball — both big enough in their own right — a name like Ronaldo’s has a much larger impact on a global level. As the world’s most popular athlete with over 322 million social followers and 120 million followers on Facebook alone, Ronaldo symbolizes immense interest from broad sports audiences.

The Portuguese icon also made news recently, as Real Madrid confirmed last week that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner would be leaving the club to join Juventus. Surely, this added drama could have a place in the script.

As Variety pointed out, this docu-series would be “the most aggressive bet so far to acquire high-profile content with worldwide appeal”  by Facebook Head of Global Creative Strategy Ricky Van Veen.

Coincidentally, Ronaldo is already in business with Facebook, according to the Variety report. The company has ordered a scripted drama series from Ronaldo and Paul Lee’s newly launched studio, wiip, for Facebook Watch. That show is about a diverse high-school girls soccer team in upstate New York that inspires the local community to transcend racial, ethnic and class differences dividing it.

Yet this new potential docu-series would be an entirely different animal, as it stands to be much more sports-centric, reaching a much different crowd — the same audience Facebook is going after with its recently announced acquisition of broadcast rights for the English Premier League to large parts of Asia and the rights to stream La Liga in India.  

Between those two big media buys, prior successful content experiments, and the new docu-series with Ronaldo, it’s evident that Facebook is firmly focused on making a concrete, comprehensive strong sports play.

To dig deeper, for several weeks, the social media giant has been looking for a Sports Partner Solutions – Sports Media member to add to their Business Development & Partnerships team, among other open positions related to sports media.

That team is responsible for “working closely with the leading content creators in the world including leagues, teams, media, journalists, and athletes to drive engagement and support the strategic initiatives of the global sports team.”

Forbes may have foreshadowed this earlier in the year, with a headline asking “Will Facebook Become the Preferred Way for Fans to Watch Sports?” and then diving into why the company is clearly intent on drastically altering the way we consume content worldwide.

As pointed out in the article, last year, Facebook reached a deal to stream one simulcast Major League Baseball game a week, but this season, they are exclusively streaming 25 games that can only be watched, for free, on Facebook.

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According to Techcrunch, “live videos on Facebook generate six times more discussion” than recorded videos. In an interview with Karl Kaufman for the Forbes profile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “when done well, video brings us closer together. We’ve found that communities formed around video like TV shows or sports create a greater sense of belonging than many other kinds of communities, but too often right now, watching video is just a passive consumption experience.”

Facebook has much work to do before it can be considered among the upper echelon of sports media heavyweights, but safe bets — such as the Ronaldo docu-series among other projects — is a good start.