By Dan Reed, Head of Global Sports Partnerships

We shared recently that Nielsen announced plans to expand Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings in coming months, and will include Facebook topic data in the new Nielsen Social Content Ratings. The expanded ratings will measure social media activity for original video programming from TV and over-the-top streaming providers, including live sporting events.

Sports in particular drives massive engagement on Facebook, especially in real time during NFL games. 65 million unique people joined the Facebook conversation during Super Bowl XLIX, which was the most-discussed sporting event globally in 2015. To help our media partners better understand the connection between TV tune-in and activity on Facebook, we asked Nielsen to look into the relationship between social activity on our platform during NFL games and live TV ratings.

Nielsen analyzed a selection of nine, nationally-broadcast, regular season games in October and November, and found three notable conclusions.

Pre-gaming the NFL broadcast on Facebook

Just as the crowd inside a physical stadium is abuzz about the game ahead of kickoff, sports fans on Facebook are, too. Nielsen looked at the volume of Facebook activity in the 15 minutes prior to the start of the game, and found that Shares and Posts were a strong estimator of the first-minute TV audience. Shares and Posts were the two types of Facebook interactions with the strongest statistical relationship to TV viewership in the first minute, according to the study.

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Facebook Shares in particular were found to have a stronger correlation than Posts. Nielsen found that an increase of one Post within the 15 minute period before the game correlated to approximately 250 additional viewers in the first minute, while an additional Share correlated to 1,000 viewers in the same time frame.

Facebook shares stand out in relationship with TV audience

The second notable finding was a positive relationship between Facebook Shares and subsequent increases in TV viewership. On Sunday nights, this association was greater after the first 25 minutes of the broadcast. In other words, Shares on Facebook correlated with tune-in even after kickoff.

This minute-by-minute chart plots Facebook Shares and TV viewership side by side to show how the TV audience evolves throughout a Sunday game

Watercooler talk on Facebook after the final whistle

Finally, Nielsen found that Facebook activity can extend the life of live NFL games after they end, as people turn to Facebook to continue discussing the game. On average, TV viewership drops off in the final minutes of an NFL game, but the inverse is observed of Facebook activity, according to Nielsen. NFL fans join the social conversation on Facebook in real time during a live game, and then continue to discuss their favorite moments, plays and players after the final whistle blows.

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Facebook builds a dedicated place for sports fans

With 650 million people connected to sports Pages, Facebook is the largest community of sports fans in the world. People turn to Facebook to celebrate, commiserate and talk trash with their friends and fellow fans, so we wanted to build them a place on Facebook devoted entirely to sports. We recently launched Facebook Sports Stadium as a second screen for live sporting events, and will continue to invest in this area.SB Matchups and Friends Tabs