Facebook needs more friends in its new Sports Stadium

Not only is it hard to find Sports Stadium on Facebook's iPhone app, but it may be lonely once you do.

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Sports Stadium attempts to get more people interacting on Facebook during big games.

Facebook

A funny thing happened on my way to Facebook's Sports Stadium. I couldn't find it.

This was the first indication that the world's largest social network has a ways to go to attract a flood of real-time posts from sports fans. The newest feature for Facebook's iPhone app (Android to come later) promises to turn your phone into a hub for whatever big game is going on. When you turn on Sports Stadium, your screen is flooded with the competing teams' colors, your friends' commentaries and real-time stats.

But first you have to find it. There isn't a dedicated tab for Sports Stadium on the main screen of Facebook's mobile app like there is for the News Feed and Messages. Instead, you have to tap on the search bar and type in the name of a particular team. In this case, I picked the New England Patriots, a slight favorite heading into Sunday's AFC championship game and then popped on to the team's verified Facebook page

After that, I had to tap on a nondescript football icon next to a description of the game. Only then did I finally find what I was looking for.

No one will debate Facebook's intentions. Sporting events are becoming an even bigger part of people's lives than in the past, and the technology industry is looking for new ways to capitalize on that. In less than a decade, we've gone from watching sports in person or on TV to accessing live streams on our smartphones and tablets anywhere in the world.

If that isn't enough, some of the first experiments in virtual reality have been live videos of sporting events. Apple digital assistant Siri can give you live sports scores. And we've seen how fantasy-football-focused (and embattled) websites like DraftKings and FanDuel suffocate us with commercials.

Now Facebook, with its new Sports Stadium, wants our attention, particularly with the Super Bowl just two weeks away.

But it isn't a lock for Facebook at the start. Twitter, the perennial second-banana with about a fifth of Facebook's audience, has already become the center of major sporting events. To get fans to switch, Facebook will need to offer compelling reasons.

Facebook's Stadium features include Matchup (a quick recap of each play in real-time and related videos), Experts (posts from a select group including journalists such as Sports Illustrated's football guru Peter King) and Stats (easily readable).

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Denver Broncos announce on Facebook that the team is heading to Super Bowl 50.

Facebook

But something was missing in the Friends tab: my friends. Almost no one was posting anything. Meanwhile, Twitter was lighting up with more commentary than I could keep track of.

To be sure, Sunday's game was Sports Stadium's first big event. Facebook will have the next two weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50 to do tweaking and perhaps add a quick tutorial to help fans find and fill up its Stadium.

I did try to jump-start the Stadium conversation on Facebook with a post just after the game began, asking if any of my friends were going to try the new feature while watching the game. Crickets.

Perhaps many of them, especially those on the East Coast dealing with the major snowstorm, had more pressing issues.

So I encouraged a fraternity brother, who typically comments on sporting events via group text or other platforms such as GroupMe and Messenger, to try Stadium.

He likes Stadium's features but said it "takes a minute for my posts to show in the Friends stream after submission." He also noted that posts were updating at irregular intervals.

As the three-hour game continued, I occasionally found myself texting with him and even glancing at GroupMe and Twitter.

A Facebook spokesman said Monday the company is working to make Stadium easier to discover and simpler to use before the Super Bowl. He added that Facebook had gotten positive feedback about the Friends tab.

We'll see. On Sunday, a few more of my friends eventually joined Stadium, including another rather-opinionated fraternity brother who said he "would rather have Donald Trump as president than to see New England win." He got his wish. The Broncos beat the Pats in a 20-18 nail-biter.

Well, at least my friends were starting to post on Facebook.

Update, 7:45 a.m. PT January 25: Comment from Facebook added.

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