With Twitter, the NFL’s Second Screen Strategy Evolves

Insights, thoughts and reactions to the new deal.

Multiple views of an NFL game broadcast on a variance of screens. Photo via Geek Wire.

Dedicated fans and armchair quarterbacks watching NFL games on television from the comfort of their couch have evolved into having a phone, tablet or other device at their side to complement the experience in the last decade.

For the longest time, the story with the National Football League and its media rights was solely about the television package. Those deals created sweeps ratings period winners and lifted primetime network lineups. They legitimized the FOX network overnight and created a television network affiliate earthquake in its aftermath.

Now, for the second time this offseason, the second screen takes center stage as the NFL continues to evolve its digital strategy, thanks to a recently announced deal with the social media platform Twitter.

We looked at why this deal is so unique and also reached out to those who stand out in their use of Twitter among other social platforms in the sports world, for their reactions and hopes for the new partnership. Beyond the press release, where might this deal lead our football viewing experience in the years ahead?

The Bills and Jaguars play in 2015 Sunday morning game streamed by Yahoo from London. Photo via Yahoo.

THE EVOLUTION OF NFL DIGITAL RIGHTS

The opportunity to grow NFL television rights deals has been limited in recent years. Back in 2011, the NFL renewed all three Sunday television packages and Monday Night Football through the 2022 season.

Only the Thursday Night package is up for renewal anytime soon after its current agreement expires following this upcoming season.

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What this has done is place a premium on expanding the digital leg of the three-legged stool (including television and cable) in what the NFL has referred to as its “Tri-Cast” distribution model.

The focus of digital rights acquisition to-date has almost entirely been streaming of live games.

Verizon first acquired such a deal for mobile streaming back in 2010 with renewal since. AT&T and DirecTV since acquired streaming of out-of-market Sunday afternoon games across platforms in additional to their Sunday Ticket subscription. Even individual games (think early morning London games) that fell outside of network television coverage and contracts have been sold to digital partners (Yahoo in 2015 and now Verizon in 2017).

Finally, the Thursday Night Football television package has been sold as a streaming package (first to Twitter in 2016 and now Amazon for 2017).

Apart from streaming of games, Twitter also has partnered with the NFL through their Amplify Program as one of its first clients since the venture debuted in 2013.

The program has provided the ability to offer in-game highlights and other content through tweets on the social media platform. What’s different, though, is that this new deal with Twitter expands the digital rights world into a new frontier.

Bears wide receiver Kevin White (#13) works out in pre-game drills before a preseason game last August.

ABOUT THE PARTNERSHIP

In jointly announcing the partnership, the NFL and Twitter pointed out three key tenants: a live show, live pre-game coverage and a continuation of on-demand video clips. The agreement marks a departure from past deals and serves as a breakthrough for the digital platform in the creation of its own, unique live content apart from television broadcast partners.

According to the release, a live show will be uniquely broadcast on Twitter, five days a week during the season utilizing NFL Network hosts and analysts. Topics slated for coverage at a minimum include: highlights, breaking news, fantasy football and pre-game updates.

Live, digital pre-game access will also be available through Twitter and Twitter-owned Periscope for primetime games and “other key match-ups” during the season. This content is said to potentially include player warm-ups and sideline interviews to venture even further behind-the-scenes.

Finally, video clips and other on-demand content that have been provided through the Amplify Program will continue under the agreement.

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The plan for live, custom content meshes with what has been reported in many outlets as Twitter’s strategic plan to stream live video programming around the clock.

The announcement of the partnership also afforded Twitter an opportunity to rebound its loss of streaming rights of Thursday Night games to Amazon last month.

In potentially foreshadowing the NFL deal last month as well, Twitter COO and CFO Anthony Noto stated, “Our goal is to be a dependable place so that when you want to see what’s happening, you think of going to Twitter.”

SOCIAL MEDIA STANDOUTS REACT

The news of the new partnership and the new frontier of live content is one thing, but what if we stepped back to look ahead for what this might mean going forward beyond what was shared in the joint press release? We reached out to several social media rock stars in the sports world to seek their reactions to the news as well as think ahead to an ideal vision for the partnership.

Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) is an independent reporter focused on reporting NFL news and transactions. He also is a go-to account for NFL fans both on Sundays — covering and offering commentary on the events of all the games as they transpire — and into the offseason.

“I think basically it was a much needed move by Twitter. They’ve been the third-most popular social media platform after Facebook and Instagram (excluding YouTube), and they still don’t have a profitable business model despite years of success. Making this move to get the rights for the most popular sport/rating machine that is the NFL via streaming was a play to turn profit via the amount of users they have who, right now, get a free service without running into much advertisement like on other social media platforms.

People watch NFL games less and less on TV every year, so streaming is how many fans digest sports now. Getting on the ground floor of streaming live content around NFL games could be big.”

Butler Blue III, more commonly known as “Trip” (@ButlerBlue3), is the official live mascot of Butler University in Indianapolis and a fixture at their sporting events. Having been referred to as a “marketing dynamo,” Trip has built a large social media presence, advances the university, shares travels and life on campus with alumni and fans alike and markets all things Butler both in-person and online.

“If this means I get more coverage of the Indianapolis Colts from the comfort of my coach, then I’m all for it. After all, nobody likes having to wait for kickoff, so hopefully, we’ll get some live looks at warm-ups along with coverage of the pre-game festivities at Lucas Oil Stadium. And with such large rosters on NFL teams, additional player interaction and perspectives would also be a nice touch.

I’m a big Twitter user, so I’m looking forward to following the NFL action even more this season with the new partnership.”

Dr. David Chao (@ProFootballDoc), is an orthopedic surgeon and former head physician of the San Diego Chargers who is sought after in social media for his work in real-time diagnosis of player injuries based on video review. He recently launched a digital partnership with the San Diego Union-Tribune to expand on his social media work at ProFootballDoc.com and appears on SiriusXM radio.

“What I see is that old school, just watching TV is not there any more. There’s been an axis shift. This also applies to attending games in person where there can be tradeoffs in keeping up on other teams and players in fantasy football. There may be an opportunity for the new partnership to help drive an evolution of coverage.

The new age is watching games with a cell phone or laptop. Anyone under 30 is watching with devices in hand. There is a lot of new content to be had. Rooting interests have changed from favorite teams to also include fantasy football. Beyond NFL Red Zone channel coverage, fans want to know how the teams and the players got inside the 20.

I predict in the future, NFL Red Zone on television will not be the same anymore. It will evolve into more customizable content and trending channels with Twitter involved to facilitate this. It might look like something where you pick your center screen and have screens all around it. You can watch all your fantasy players and those of opponents, have an analyst by player position, and also have officiating and medical analysts as part of customizable content.”

Live, digital NFL content will be a reality starting this fall on Twitter. The second screen will look to expand its hold on fans and then some as a key component of their football consumption. Beyond the plans for scheduled shows and pre-game coverage, a new world of content may very well await. Where this goes is ultimately the question, and a world of possibility certainly makes the potential answer to that question quite exciting for fans around the globe.


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