Commentary

Tweet This: NFL Streaming Package Goes To Twitter

Bloomberg is reporting this morning that Twitter---Twitter!--appears to have secured the streaming rights to a package of NFL Thursday night games, which is about as unexpected as the league’s “on any given Sunday” cliche about surprise developments.

The report says the NFL rights would be the linchpin to Twitter’s “strategic push into online programming.”

There apparently hasn’t been an official announcement yet but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this morning tweeted, “This fall Thursday Night Football will be streamed live @twitter so fans will see more of this,” leading to an attached  six-minute video clip of what appears to be an NFL Films highlight reel.  

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(Thanks to The Washington Post for pointing out Goodell’s last tweet occurred on Sept. 6, 2014.)

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, said “This is about transforming the fan experience with football. People watch NFL games with Twitter today."

Indeed, Twitter has been a player in the NFL and sports world almost from the start in 2006. The Boston Globe’s Rich Levine recently listed great sports/Twitter moments of the last decade, from a decidedly Beantown point of view. But the emphasis was clear. “With a thirst for constant knowledge and borderline insane banter, sports fans and Twitter were a perfect fit,” Levine wrote.  

Possibly Twitter’s best sports moment, don’t forget, was when Oreo brand marketers shrewdly tweeted their famous “You can still dunk in the dark” instant viral message as Super Bowl XLVII viewers waited for a stadium electricity blackout to be repaired in 2013.

The latest development, nonetheless, is surprising not only because Twitter is sealing the deal (and wasn’t mentioned among the contenders) but also because it will have beaten some eminently logical streaming entities, probably Amazon most of all, and Verizon right behind.

Yahoo, which made history last season by showing the first streaming-exclusive regular season NFL game, was in the bidding, too. Its streaming event attracted 15.2 million viewers, but only 2.36 per minute indicating that not many stuck around. (Of course, it was a game between two teams going nowhere, played in London, so it was streaming in the U.S. during breakfast, at best, or at the break of dawn on the West Coast.)

But reportedly Facebook removed itself from the bidding process when it became clear the NFL was not comfortable with its plans to show the games without commercials, as Facebook intended. And reportedly, Apple sniffed around the NFL deal and took a pass.

It is hard to imagine an offer that could have contained a just a plain-vanilla streaming pitch. Every bidder had value added. Amazon could dangle the easy merchandising opportunities that would advantage the league and themselves and the wide availability of Amazon Prime Video in millions of homes.  

Verizon could argue that as the largest mobile carrier in an increasingly mobile-first video environment it was perfectly positioned. Yahoo had the power of incumbency, and what one would guess was a we-try-harder approach and lots of ancillary avenues for social media and advertising.

Twitter may not be the most artful practitioner in the social-media universe, and news about it in the last couple years has centered on its inability to unlock its potential, though journalists love it as a kind of modern-age wire machine.

It's a powerful brand--twitter often isn’t capitalized and tweet never is, a perverse kind of band-aid status. One of its problems is that people don't know how to use it--"hash tag" is not always a fondly delivered joke line. That resistance is real.

But it obviously has the ability to be a conduit for instant engagement, around the world, from its pivotal role in the Arab Spring in 2012 to its everyday conversation-engine status for news, fashion, music, politics and oh, yes, sports.

Imagine streaming an NFL game while simultaneously tweeting about it on the same platform. Imagine watching, tweeting and being present at the game.

Also, perhaps, imagine Twitter learning something about marketing from the NFL.


pj@mediapost.com
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