NEW ORLEANS, La. — Twitter is typically a “second-screen” for sports fans, a social media tool that adds to the game-watching experience on TV.
But for 10 NFL games next season, it will become the screen.
The NFL announced a new streaming deal with Twitter on Tuesday, as the social media giant outbid other tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Verizon, and others for the rights to 10 Thursday Night Football games that will stream exclusively on its platform for free around the globe.
It’s a big deal for both the league and Twitter, which partnered with the NFL in the past. The NFL inked a similar streaming deal last season with Yahoo, which paid a reported $17 million to air one game in the league’s first foray into digital broadcast. About 15 million unique viewers watched the live stream, according to the NFL, which is comparable to an average Monday Night Football game.
For Twitter, which is struggling to add new users, it’s another vote of confidence in the platform as a tool used by people during live events — now, the actual live event will be embedded within Twitter’s stream itself.
NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle noted the existing relationship between the NFL and Twitter, which has benefitted not only the league but also its sponsors.
“It was really that track record that we had already established that put them in a leading position,” said McKenna-Doyle, speaking on a sports technology panel that I moderated at the Microsoft Envision conference in New Orleans.
The CIO also noted how fans are already using Twitter while they watch games.
“This may reduce some friction between watching and commenting on the game, and being able to put your own spin and create your own content,” she said. “We will see more fan-created content around the actual production of the game.”
The 10 Thursday Night Football games will also be broadcast on CBS and NFL Network, giving viewers an option of where to catch the action.
But having the game stream via Twitter will allow the league to track new data about its customers.
“We will learn a lot from this,” McKenna-Doyle said. “How does this shape behavior? How does it impact our long-term digital rights business?”
Todd Goldstein, chief revenue officer at AEG, a leading sports and entertainment company, noted how making games and concerts available via live streams is part of a growing trend to reach more customers — particularly of the younger generation that’s more comfortable with technology and for folks outside of the U.S., which is a central part of the NFL’s growth plans.
“If we can sell tickets to a festival and we’re also able to stream that and give an individual the opportunity to experience that, it’s very good for that individual,” said Goldstein, who was also a panelist at the event in New Orleans. “It continues to grow our fan base and that’s what we’re all about.”