Facebook’s Sports Stadium hub puts heat on Twitter

Courtesy of the Houston Chronicle:

Facebook’s rollout of a sports hub this week illustrates a key difference between the social network and struggling rival Twitter.

Facebook Sports Stadium lets users see and share posts about football games with their friends, teams and journalists, as well as catch up on stats all in one place, as games are going on. It’s designed to be a second-screen activity – using a device while watching the game on TV – a situation where Twitter normally excels. With Sports Stadium, Facebook seems willing to experiment, taking a gamble on football as a first category in the weeks before the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Twitter has rarely ever taken such leaps, even as it struggles for users.

“Twitter unfortunately needs to act more like Facebook as it relates to features, trying things out and taking some risks,” said Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights and Strategy.

Facebook’s more than 1.5 billion monthly active users and strong advertising revenue give it room to experiment with new businesses and products. The Menlo Park, Calif., company, which made $896 million in net income last quarter, has delved into topics like virtual reality, artificial intelligence and building other apps. That has helped the company become a leader in mobile, and a fast competitor in video.

“They really have the chance to spread their wings and try a lot of different things,” said Brian Blau, a Gartner research director. “Most companies can’t accelerate as fast as Facebook due to resource constraints.”

Not all have been successful. Some Facebook efforts have failed, including its Snapchat-like app called Slingshot. But the experimentation has boosted innovation at the company, analysts said.

Meanwhile, Twitter, seen as a go-to place for breaking news, has foundered. The company’s monthly active user growth has been slower than Facebook’s, with just 320 million in the last quarter. Last year, it laid off more than 300 employees. Its stock price closed at $17.83 a share on Thursday, about $8 less than its IPO.

Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey said in a news release in July that he was not satisfied with the company’s user growth and that the company must have more “disciplined execution, simplify our service to deliver Twitter’s value faster, and better communicate that value” in order to reach its full potential.

Twitter has rolled out a few features including Moments, in October, which curates interesting trends that users may have missed. The company also experimented with showing tweets out of chronological order, which angered some users, and has suggested it will expand its 140-character limit per tweet – a staple of the service from the beginning.

But the company has not offered functions that users have clamored for, including the ability to edit tweets or improve the visibility of Twitter lists.

In the past, Twitter has been slow to launch product lines, which may have been due to concerns that it would alienate its core user base and issues with its management.

Opportunities missed include an effective messaging tool and certain aspects of video, according to Blau.

“The fact is, they are in a tough spot today,” Blau said. “I don’t think it’s an unfixable spot.”

Twitter declined to comment on whether it sees Sports Stadium as competition.

Facebook’s new feature will help the social network draw more traffic and increase engagement time among users. Sports Stadium launched for U.S. users on its iPhone app Thursday and will roll out to Android users in the coming weeks and to the desktop in time for the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.

In the future, Facebook plans to extend the feature to other sports and other countries. Users can access Facebook Sports Stadium by searching for specific games on Facebook.

“With 650 million people connected to sports Pages, Facebook is the single largest community of sports fans in the world, and is already where massive global conversations are happening during live sports events,” wrote Dan Reed, head of global sports partnerships on Facebook’s website.