Facebook Connect mates sports with social media

When Facebook Connect allowed the use of social plug-ins by third-party websites last April, it allowed developers to better integrate content with social media. Now, only a few months later, the phenomenon has exploded.

The plug-ins are embeddable social features that can be integrated with any site with a line of HTML. Because Facebook hosts them, the plug-ins are personalized for all users who are logged into Facebook. There's no need to register with the connecting site, bringing an end to lengthy repeated registration processes.

There are eight social plug-ins. The most important is the "like" button, which enables users to post pages from a third-party website back to their Facebook profile with a single click. To date, more than 100,000 websites have integrated the social plug-ins.

ESPN immediately integrated the new features across ESPN.com, kicking off during the NFL Draft in April. Facebook users checking out the NFL DraftCast on ESPN.com were able to "like" players and teams, and send that information to their friends for a running commentary as the rounds progressed. The feature proved popular.

NHL.com, the official website of the National Hockey League, has seen an 80 percent increase in referral traffic from Facebook, as people interact with articles, scores and videos. The feature is now part of the league's "Hockey Marketplace" syndication strategy, which seeks to expand its presence on third-party sites.

MLB.com, the Major League Baseball site with more than 19 billion page viewers per year, has found that social context is essential to helping is users connect to the teams and players they most care about.

IBowl is an iPhone app that allows users to swing their mobile phone to simulate the real-world bowling experience to knock down pins. Now with the Facebook Connect for iPhone integration, users can stop challenging random iBowlers to live matches and attempt to out-bowl Facebook friends in interactive tournaments instead.

"We are excited about the potential of Facebook as an audience development tool because of its unparalleled reach and its unique word-of-mouth capabilities," Perry Cooper, the NHL's senior vice president of digital media, said. "At the same time, by providing our fans with features and functions they are known to enjoy, we continue to strive to deliver the best user experience at NHL.com."

It is now hard to find a sports website—in fact any website, including ones about news, movies, food, anything—not using Facebook Connect. In only a few months, the bond between sports and social media has been firmly established.