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Football Gets Social

Are you ready for some social media integration?

When the NFL regular season kicks off on Sept. 5, Twitter videos, Facebook polling, GetGlue check-ins and text alerts will all be regular parts of the viewer experience that networks broadcasting pro football will make available to fans this year.

As more fans every season engage in social media while watching the game, networks are looking for new ways to program content for that growing second-screen audience. At NBC, sideline reporter Michele Tafoya started filing reports exclusive to NBC Sunday Night Football’s Twitter feed last season. This year Tafoya is adding video reports, hard-wiring her mic to an iPhone to upload 20-to-30-second video clips directly to the @SNFonNBC feed. Producers plan to have her do five to 10 reports per game, expanding her insight beyond 140 characters.

“I really think Twitter was made for sideline reporting,” says Fred Gaudelli, producer of NBC Sunday Night Football, “because there’s so many things that may not fit into the flow of a TV broadcast that people would find interesting that don’t get on the air.”

Fox Sports, which had only a consultant to advise on its NFL social media strategy last season, this year will have eight full-time employees dedicated to social media during its Sunday game broadcasts.

The increased staffing has led to a partnership with GetGlue and tighter integration of Twitter into Fox’s studio shows. Fox is planning a contest with analyst Jimmy Johnson’s Twitter feed and is promoting senior NFL writer Jay Glazer’s Twitter feed by encouraging viewers to send him questions with the hashtag #AskJay during his pregame segment; those questions will be answered on Twitter and possibly on-air.

“If something really good comes across from the Twitter or Facebook world in terms of the conversation, we’ll be looking at that for broadcast every week,” says Chris Hannan, senior VP at Fox Sports Media Group.

ESPN this season will look to experiment with real-time polling on Sunday NFL Countdown, powered by Facebook or other companies, so that when an anchor poses a question like “Who should start as quarterback for the New York Jets, Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow?” the results can be immediately displayed on-screen and updated in real time. Though that feature won’t be present right away, “at some point in the season we’re defi nitely going to have that,” says Seth Markman, senior coordinating producer at ESPN.

Football season also means overruns into primetime programming, this year more than ever now that late afternoon doubleheader games on CBS and Fox will start 10 minutes later. CBS’ Eyelert, a service that notifies viewers when Sunday-night programs like The Amazing Race or The Good Wife will start in case of an overrun, has been around for about four years. This year, CBS revamped the formerly emailbased system to SMS, so viewers can get the info via a text message.

“Within a minute of when we know what time the shows will start, when the game ends, we blast it out,” says George Schweitzer, president of marketing at CBS.

Fans can also follow Eye-lert on Facebook and Twitter for updates. The service won’t automatically adjust DVR recordings, however—for that, the network is launching a “viewer education program” of on-air promotions during Sunday night shows to train fans to set their DVRs for a couple of hours on game days.

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