Facebook Scores NFL Video Clips With Ads From Verizon

Facebook FB +0.06% has scored a big partner as it ramps up its online video ambitions: the National Football League.

The league on Tuesday will begin posting short video clips on the social networking service. They could include game highlights — like the recent spectacular catch by New York Giant’s receiver Odell Beckham Jr. — as well as NFL news and fantasy football advice, according to people familiar with the plans.

The clips will be immediately followed by ads from Verizon Wireless, which will pay to promote them within NFL fans’ Facebook news feeds. Facebook and the NFL will share the ad revenue, though the specific financial terms weren’t available. Facebook plans to bring in other partners down the road.

The timing is good for both sides, with the NFL regular season drawing to a close and excitement building as key playoff races are still undecided.

The partnership is the latest sign that Facebook is getting more aggressive as it tries to become a major player in Web video and figure out ways to capture more ad dollars.

NFL rights aren’t easy to secure. The league is known for its caution in metering out its content. It doesn’t let clips of its games run wild in social media and it doesn’t have an official YouTube channel, for example. The league’s TV partners–despite spending billions to carry NFL games on their air–don’t always have have rights to stream games on mobile devices or tweet about them.

Wherever possible, the league looks to build its own digital services. The latest example is NFL Now, a Web video product that offers fans in-depth content on their favorite teams.

The Facebook arrangement is similar to a deal the NFL struck with Twitter last year.  In that partnership, the league agreed to deliver short highlight clips accompanied by ads in people’s Twitter feeds.

“This is a small video sponsorship test, and we will be evaluating how people, publishers, and marketers respond to this kind of co-branded video content on Facebook,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.

Beyond the NFL partnership, Facebook is trying to boost its Web video offerings in other ways. It is actively courting many YouTube creators from the Web video world, urging them to upload video clips directly to Facebook rather than embedding YouTube videos. Facebook has also approached traditional media companies about using Facebook as a video distribution outlet, people familiar with the matter say.

To grow its video business, the social networking service will have to put forward a compelling case that it can help video publishers make money. For all the grumbling in the new media world about how YouTube takes a 45% share of ad revenue from videos, creators still know they are going to make some money through YouTube.

Figuring out how to show video ads to users will be tricky for Facebook, since the company has indicated that it does not plan to run “pre-roll” ads--those TV-like video ads that run prior to online videos and are the industry standard.

For now, the NFL clips will run above a clickable,”presented by Verizon” message; at the conclusion of a video a Verizon ad will begin playing. Facebook plans to experiment with other formats beyond that “post roll” advertising approach.