The NFL Twitter streaming deal is a lesson for F1 and Premier League football

Twitter just announced it will be showing selected NFL games next year, and it’s probably the best decision the social media network has made in the last five years. The deal includes only ten less popular Thursday Night football games, so you won’t get to see primetime Sunday or Monday matchups but it’s a huge coup for Twitter, and could point to the future of the company – and how we watch all sport.

Twitter is where live events unfold, and is the right partner for the NFL as we take the latest step in serving fans around the world live NFL football,” Roger Goodell, the  Commissioner of the NFL said in a statement.

“There is a massive amount of NFL-related conversation happening on Twitter during our games and tapping into that audience, in addition to our viewers on broadcast and cable, will ensure Thursday Night Football is seen on an unprecedented number of platforms this season. This agreement also provides additional reach for those brands advertising with our broadcast partners.”

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Finally some good news

If the Twitter bird could display emotion, it would have looked pretty fed up for the last few years. When Twitter launched, it could seemingly do no wrong but in the last few years, several unpopular, poorly-received decisions have left the company flailing in the wind. First there was talk of dropping the character limit, then Twitter Moments fell flat – and of course there are Likes, which ironically everybody hates.

Throw in Twitter’s insistence on showing tweets in a non-chronological style timeline, and the company has been off the mark in pretty much everything recently. At the same time, Twitter has had its fair share of financial issues, too, proving unable to harness its users for revenue in the same way as Facebook has managed. As a result, shares have dropped 66.5% over the last year.

With some admittedly weak competition, the NFL deal could be the best thing it’s done in ages. Why? Because it actually plays to its strengths. Twitter is one of the most reactive social media platforms in the world, and that makes it perfect for second-screening; the practise of commenting and discussing while watching a game on a TV was basically born on Twitter, even if that wasn’t the company’s original vision.

But it’s not just the ability to tweet and react that makes the deal fascinating. NFL currently sells something called the GamePass, which gives you Live access to pretty much all the live NFL games over the year for £99.99. However, ask anyone in the UK if GamePass is worth getting and you’ll get a mixed response because in the UK, we’re subject to random game restrictions and we don’t even have access to watch post-season games – effectively like watching the World Cup but missing the knockout stages. Not the best.nfl-twitter-deal-3

The new deal appears to sidestep all the rights and agreements that have generated that mess, and the possibility of an unrestricted worldwide feed regardless of where you are is an amazing one for all sports fans.

Of course, it’s not just Twitter that’s benefitting, the NFL is, too. For the last few years, it’s held a tight grip on existing fans but struggled to get new ones. “The change of demographics with young people in this country was a big factor driving this decision,” Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s executive vice president of media, told MMQB. “How young people consume content – often times digitally, on their terms – is becoming really important.”

Although the deal cost around $10 million (£7.1 million) for Twitter, the NFL said it didn’t take the highest bid on the table, which shows just how much sense this partnership made.

“What was more important than the highest economic bid to us,” Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s executive vice president of media, told MQBB “was the fan experience. So many of our fans use Twitter during games, and that was one of the things that was important to us.”

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Whatever the price,  it’s a step in the right direction and a huge contrast to some terrible decisions in other sports. Only last month, we found out there will be only one live Formula One race on free-to-air TV from 2019 – and when you consider the sport is trying to become more enjoyable and accessible, that’s a horrific decision. And then there’s Premier League football, which is already non-existent on free-to-air TV.

Although the NFL is starting small with Thursday Night Football, this move will reinvigorate both Twitter and Thursday Night Football and I think it’s the way we’ll watch all sports in future. Sure, teams might not benefit from the same amount of licensing money straight away, but they’ll benefit in the long term with more engagement, event attendance and team loyalty. Hopefully F1 and the Premier League are paying attention.

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