Twitter and the NFL: An Unlikely Partnership

Twitter and NFL have announced one of the most unusual partnerships around. Twitter, the social network which boats 800 million users and 308 monthly active users (MAU), has bought the rights to show all Thursday Night Football games of the NFL. The Thursday night market contains 10 games and will be the social media giant’s first leap into the unknown world of live streaming. The deal will include pre and post-game shows as well as users being able to get to see behind the scene footage on Twitter’s newly acquired sister site Periscope.

Twitter acquired the rights to the games in an auction bidding system and were reportedly up against the likes of Amazon and Verizon. CBS will already be streaming the games to subscription payers so it is not exclusive. Amazingly, it seems that Twitter was not the highest bid. Twitter will reportedly pay around $10m, which works out at roughly $1m per game shown. It was the reach and chance of a different audience that attracted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Twitter is where live events unfold and is the right partner for the NFL,” he said. “There is also a massive amount of NFL-related conversation happening on Twitter during our games.” Trying to engage a younger and more tech savvy audience is clearly the aim. Some will look at the fact Twitter’s financial officer Anthony Nota who held the same position in the NFL under Roger Goodell as having helped sweet talk the deal out of higher bidders’ hands.

The motivation for Twitter is not revenue. The company has been struggling since it went public and the number of users is dropping. They want to attract new users to the site and COO Adam Bain says the deal “continues our strategy to build world’s best daily connected audience that watches together & can talk w one another in real-time.” The question which is yet to be seen is how the streaming will sit on Twitter, and how it will integrate in the screen to allow users to watch and be involved in discussions. To achieve this before the season starts will be a rush for the in-house developers to work out the best way of doing it. Brian Michaels of sports tipping site Bookmakers TV believes it is worth it: “This could be an opportunity for more people to watch NFL or even people who have never considered watching it. Here in the UK it is a burgeoning sport with 4 NFL games every season in Wembley, so more access and especially a chance for a younger crowd to engage is only a good thing for the NFL.”

The big elephant in the room of this deal is Facebook. They reportedly pulled out of the bidding a week before Twitter won. Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly obsessed with live streaming and making it center stage on Facebook, especially on mobile.  With Facebooks 1.6bn MAU it is an opportunity which could give Roger Goodell dollar signs in his eyes. While Twitter has Periscope which it bought for $55m dollars, Facebook is yet to have any dedicated live streaming service. Facebook will be watching closely to see the reaction and using it in their plans for when they are truly ready to enter the market.

Twitter has made a bold move to get the NFL games, and if there is as much buzz on Thursday Nights on Twitter as they claim, they could create an viral event specifically for social media viewers. This would definitely attract people to sign up even if it was just to see the Football and take part. The big question for me is can a social media company like Twitter offer good content and in a nice enough format to keep hold of these new users they so crave.

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