Twitter’s Sports Strategy Sparks User Growth, Eyes Betting Space

    • Twitter has seen year-over-year gains in NFL, college football engagement.
    • Social media company has shifted from streaming full events in recent years.

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Twitter has seen a significant uptick in engagement for NFL and college football this season, growth that’s expected to fuel the social media company’s monetization efforts. 

An average of 250,000 tweets per NFL game were sent (an 11% increase year over year) and college football saw a 35% increase unique authors tweeting through the end of September, according to data provided to Front Office Sports by Twitter.

The boost comes as Twitter has moved away from streaming full live events to partnerships that were more conducive to its users. 

“We’ve learned significantly over the years of what is the best use case for live on Twitter for our users,” said David Herman, who manages U.S. Sports Partnerships at Twitter. 

Twitter — which reported 41% year-over-year increase in advertising revenue ($1.14 billion) in its third quarter earning report on Oct. 26 — does stream some live sports, although it has moved away from full-game streams. It’s most notable streaming deal was the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” package before Amazon secured those rights after the 2016 season. 

Twitter also had deals to stream live NHL and MLB games. 

“It’s not like ‘live’ doesn’t exist with our partnerships, it’s just not necessarily the full game like it was in many of those early executions,” Herman said. “That’s from learning both what our users like and what advertisers are interested in.”

Herman pointed to its deal with Fox Sports where the first five minutes of the “Big Noon Saturday” game where a fan poll allows viewers to select the camera angle during the window. The NFL, meanwhile, accounted for 51% of all sports video viewed on Twitter in August and September.

“It’s really focused on engagement and interactivity,” Herman said. 

While Twitter didn’t break out its sports engagement in its most recent quarterly report, its monetizable daily active users jumped to 211 million in the quarter, a 13% year-over-year gain

Twitter’s stock is down about 15% since that quarterly report was made public. The dip is a product of operating income coming in lower than expected as the company settled a shareholder lawsuit filed in 2016 for $809.5 million, which resulted in a $537 million net loss for the quarter.

Its growth in sports engagement, however, could be key to showing Wall Street its approach to sports  and content partnerships is working, especially when it comes to the categories fans have tweeted about through the end of September compared to the same period a year ago. 

  • Beer is up 53% and drinks overall have seen a 50% increase. 
  • Tweets about music have risen 42%
  • Posts on football betting are up 22% and fantasy football-related tweets are up 11%

The Green Bay Packers were the most mentioned team through Week 9, a stretch that included the fallout of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ COVID-19 and news he wasn’t vaccinated, according to Twitter. Through the same span, Week 1’s Tampa Buccaneers’ 31-29  victory over the Dallas Cowboys was the most-mentioned game, the Cowboys’s official account had the most follower growth and Tom Brady had had the most retweeted NFL post.

As about half the states have some form of legalized sports betting with more states (like New York) expected to come on line in the coming months, Herman said Twitter is positioned to take advantage of the growth. 

“Every single day, there’s more and more conversation and more and more happening in the sports betting world,” Herman said. “We think Twitter is a platform that plays well into gambling-related conversations. We’re live. We’re real time. That’s what betting is. Betting and gambling have long been a core component of sports conversations on Twitter. Now things are legalized, more sports betting brands can be advertisers on Twitter than in the past and as leagues are partners with official betting operators, it’s getting more visibility and exposure on a daily basis.”

While the major sports books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM are advertisers on Twitter, the company doesn’t have an official betting partner that would allow users to place bets directly on the platform. 

“We are consistently looking for new ways to enhance the user experience and at some point as it relates to betting, that could be great,” Herman said. “There are a lot of complicated components for us. There are only certain states where it’s legal so far, so we are still evaluating the space as a whole.”

Twitter Blue —  an enhanced service that costs $2.99 per month that includes ad-free articles from many news outlets and other enhancements — became available to all U.S. users earlier this month. Seeking Alpha estimated revenue from Twitter Blue would range from $76 million if 1% (2.1 million) of users paid for the service to $760 million if 10% (21.1 million) of users subscribed. 

While that Twitter Blue isn’t necessarily aimed at sports fans, one of it’s other offerings has seen wide adoption since its wide launch in May: Twitter Spaces, live audio chats that can now be turned into podcasts by hosts. 

“Audio is a format that we think is a fantastic compliment to what already exists on Twitter,” Herman said. “What we love about Spaces is that it doesn’t take away from the core Twitter experience in any way. Bringing consistent audio-based conversations to the platform gives users another chance to engage, converse and talk about the sports they love.”