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Twitter & the NFL: a Dynamic Duo

Earlier this season, Twitter live streamed its first NFL game to over two million users, part of a deal made between the league and the social media network. Twitter, for approximately $10 million, received the rights to stream the 10 Thursday Night Football games broadcasted by NBC and CBS.

Twitter’s average audience of 243,000 during the Thursday Night Football game was very small to CBS and the NFL Network’s average audience of 15.4 million television viewers but no one expected the social media site to rival the ratings of a large screen television, still the preferred way to watch sporting events. As far as digital streaming goes, this was as success. Of the 2.4 million viewers that were reached through digital properties, 2.3 million were reached through Twitter.

Sporting events are one of the few programs on television still consistently viewed live. In the age of DVR, many programs are taped and watched later by viewers, as viewers then have the power to fast forward through commercials. This lowers the attractiveness and thus the value of those advertising spots. Live sporting events defy this phenomenon, which is why more and more brands look to advertise through sport. The highest rated program on television? Sunday Night Football.

So while the viewership of this year’s TNF opener had lower ratings than the 2015 season’s TNF opener (the 2015 Denver and Kansas City matchup brought in the highest rating for a TNF game ever), things are still looking good for the NFL. They reported that Thursday night’s rating was up 20 percent from the average rating for the 16 games of the 2015 Thursday Night Football schedule on CBS and NFL Network.

For brands that currently advertise with NBC and CBS, the partnership between the NFL and Twitter adds additional reach, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. It is unlikely that many fans are opting to watch the games on Twitter <em>instead</em> of big screen televisions, although some surely did. The much more likely scenario is that more fans will be tuned in and logged onto Twitter as a second-screen, increasing reach of messages through advertising.

For brands looking to advertise through these Twitter streams, there are many options. The first, which AdWeek reports is available in all of Twitter’s deals, is through the Amplify program which places advertisements alongside video and highlight clips that are then tweeted out. The NFL previously used Amplify, and those successes are a reason the NFL chose Twitter to digitally stream games this season. The other option is the reported 200 or so digital commercials, or roughly 20 per game, that will appear online as regular TV commercials. NBC and CBS sell the national spots and the local spots are left to Twitter.

While Twitter only receives limited advertising options for an average professional football broadcast, they are only paying about $1 million per game. Last season, Yahoo! paid $17 million for the rights to live stream the Bills-Jags game in London, which was aired at 9:30 a.m. ET. The returns for Twitter will be from the advertising spaces sold, but more importantly from the increased engagement among active users, who often already live tweet NFL games, as well as the additional users that will flock to the platform to watch the broadcasts for free without verification. Twitter is in need of content to stimulate growth to please investors, and the highly valuable NFL could do the trick—as seen earlier this month, Twitter’s stock made a temporary jump. Although back to nearly the same price now, fans catching on to the platform and more exciting future matchups could result in a more permanent improvement. As a whole, Twitter’s new strategies to stream live sports could be its saving grace in attracting new users.

While mostly highly praised, Twitter’s streaming does not come without room for improvement. The most significant issue of the first broadcast was the delay between Twitter’s stream and the CBS broadcast on television. Significant delays led to a few spoilers in the live stream of Tweets displayed next to the video. Although typically less than a minute, the trailing time makes the live stream less “real time.” The other issue users complained of was the lack of an option to view tweets from only users they follow during the game. While many participated in the public timeline, some preferred their own, regular feed. But overall, most involved are saying #success to this deal between the NFL and Twitter. How it progresses throughout the season will be a hot topic to follow in sport marketing and media.

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