Butch Cassidy was once asked why he robbed banks.
“Because that’s where the money is.”
Facebook’s successful bid to stream Premier League games in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand shares the same motivation. Facebook invests in South East Asia because that’s where its customers are.
Facebook relies on the region for 40 per cent of its monthly active users and it wants to keep these people entertained and engaged. It also needs to find more of them. Streaming Premier League games delivers new audiences and makes Facebook sticky. Ninety minutes of football is now ninety minutes of Facebook.
The deal makes sense for the Premier League too. South East Asian countries feature in the top ten overseas markets for most clubs. Facebook is still by far the biggest social network for the Premier League. The clubs share a total fanbase of 260 million people. That’s bigger than the global followings of the Premier League clubs on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube combined.
There is another reason why Facebook might want to increase its investment in football. Over the past couple of years, most Premier League clubs have seen their Facebook growth slow to 3 per cent or less. Engagement rates this year are off the pace too.
Facebook still adds more new club fans than any other social network, but most of these gains sit with Manchester City and Liverpool. The Premier League’s biggest club Manchester United now has fewer fans on Facebook than it did last year.
Facebook wants its momentum back. Live streaming should provide some fresh legs to start pressing forward again. The deal shows that even with a sizeable advantage in user numbers, Facebook knows it cannot be complacent. It needs a growing and engaged audience. These days, that’s where the money is.
Our full annual review of the Premier League clubs’ performance in social networks is available here. We also published an update for the end of the 2017/18 Season. Both reports are free to access (because we’re nice like that).