Direct Message: NFL Eyes Future With Twitter Deal

Wednesday April 6th, 2016

The news that the NFL is partnering with Twitter to live-stream 10 Thursday night games this season is important to the league for two reasons: 1) It’s part of a continuing effort by the league to reel in young viewers who do not have cable or satellite TV; 2) And it’s a way to increase the interest of fans who like to use social media while watching games; now those viewers will only need one screen—say, a laptop or a smartphone—to both watch the games and interact on Twitter.

It’s important to you for one reason: If you like Twitter, you’ll be able to watch a game and use Twitter to interact with informed people (and maybe some idiots too) on the same screen.

“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 me Tuesday after the partnership with Twitter for the 2016 season was announced. “How young people consume content—oftentimes digitally, on their terms—is becoming really important.” He was referring to the so-called “cord-cutters,” those people who choose not to pay for cable but rather experience TV in other ways, like via Apple TV or Roku.

• INSIDE GRUDEN’S QUARTERBACK CAMP: The MMQB goes behind the scenes as the ex-coach-turned-analyst puts Carson Wentz through the made-for-TV wringer both in the classroom and on the field

It’s not only young people that the NFL targeted with this move. It’s the way middle-aged and older fans consume the game too. Rolapp said seven of 10 fans who watch NFL games on television use another screen—laptop or tablet or smartphone—at some point while watching. This was the most interesting thing I thought Rolapp said: If you’ve got a laptop open and want to stream the game, you’ll have the option of watching the game on the full screen, the way the NFL did last fall on the Jacksonville-Buffalo Yahoo Sports streaming experiment, or as part of a dual screen—watching the game on part of it, and using Twitter on the other part of the screen.

Rolapp said the NFL didn’t take the highest bid from social-media companies that wanted to be the NFL’s 2016 live-streaming partner. “What was more important than the highest economic bid to us,” Rolapp said, “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.”

Also Tuesday, Twitter CFO Anthony Noto told me consumers using a smartphone to watch the game on the smaller screen will have the option to click and open a stream of Tweets from commentators, other media people or their own friends to follow the game.

These 10 Thursday games will be able to be consumed on network TV (five are NBC-based games, five CBS), and on NFL Network, and now on Twitter. The NFL is calling the 10 games “tri-casts.” As for whether CBS and NBC will stream games on their own sites: Although CBS has not exercised its ability to live-stream its games in the past, NBC has streamed Sunday night games recently, and has announced it will stream the Thursday night games as well. When that happens, the distribution for the games would add a fourth way to watch. Whatever, it’s a new experience, the NFL’s attempt to stay attuned to the way people experience football games today. [Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Peter King’s daughter, Laura, is an employee of Twitter.]

• MONDAY MORNING QB: Peter King on Kaepernick, Kelly and the player who could upend the 2016 draft

“We have 37 percent of our users who describe themselves as sports enthusiasts,” Noto said. “This agreement is a natural extension of that. The NFL will be able to reach a bigger audience, a global audience, a mobile audience, with us.”

Now for your email:

* * *

Greg Hardy is free to sign with any team after the Cowboys opted not to re-sign the pass rusher after the 2015 season.
Brad Loper/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images

ON GREG HARDY

After watching the bizarre Greg Hardy interview with Adam Schefter it was pretty obvious Greg Hardy is still oblivious. Do you see a team taking a chance on him given his past troubles and odd year with the Cowboys? No question he has the talent to play in the NFL, but I hope he never gets to put on a uniform again in this league.

—Chris, Stamford, Conn.

I watched snippets of the interview and thought to myself: If Hardy thought he was rehabbing his image in this interview, boy, was he wrong. I don’t see how his path back to the NFL got less rocky by sitting down with Schefter and giving the basic non-denial denial.

DR. Z AND HISTORY

I enjoyed the update on Dr. Z. As a youngster, I loved the occasion to pour over SI when it arrived at my grade school library to read Dr. Z’s articles—something that carried over into adulthood. I think what I enjoyed best about his columns was the rich knowledge of the history of the game that he brought to his writing. Players I never saw came alive in the stories he retold. Have you ever considered adding a history feature to The MMQB? Between Dr. Z, and Steve and Ed Sabol, professional football has lost three of the game’s most important storytellers. These men contributed greatly not only to understanding the game but also to defining the legacy of the National Football League. I can think of no more fitting tribute for Dr. Z  than to have a weekly (or semi-regular) column devoted to the history of the NFL, whether its focus is on specific players, games, teams or personnel. It’s an opportunity for The MMQB to inform a new generation of fans of the glorious past of the game, much like Dr. Z did for my generation in the 1970s and 1980s.

—John

That is a terrific idea, John. It’s one we’ll explore this off-season. Thanks for the idea.

A GOOD DR. Z STORY

I've never met Dr. Z, but I have a favorite Dr. Z story about his writing. A few years ago a friend of mine was disgusted with his lifelong team (Washington). He and his family divorced them, and they went through a deliberate process to choose a new team. Among their criteria, they wanted to choose a team with a proud history, but they didn't want to join a bandwagon behind a current contender. I lent them my copy of “A Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football,” an old edition with the Browns on the cover. I tagged the chapter on Marion Motley. He and his daughters read the book and they adopted the Browns. I'm no longer welcome in their home.

—Steve S.

I will make sure Zim hears this story. I guarantee he will howl with laughter.

KAEP SHOULD STAY

There is no chance Colin Kaepernick should give money back to play for another team. SF picked up his option solely to generate a draft pick in a trade and gambled that Kaepernick would essentially fund the draft pick for them. He owes SF nothing. The player always loses when it comes to NFL contracts. I'd collect the $12 million and wait for another year to see if SF picks up the next option. If SF passes, Kaepernick can choose his next location. Easy decision.

—Tim

It’s an interesting debate, but if you’re Kaepernick, shouldn’t you make the decision solely on what is best for your career at this moment? It’s certainly the way I would think. You can be bitter and think the Niners did you wrong and, no matter what, you want out. Or you could think you would love to play on a team with two great wideouts and the benefit of a Super Bowl-championship defense. Easy for me to say, but if I were Kaepernick and had to choose between making $11.9 million for the Niners and, say, $7 million with the Broncos for this year with the clear understanding that down the road if I played well I’d get a quarterback-market deal in Denver … well, I’d make the decision between two very good options and not worry about losing money this year. If I had faith in my ability as a quarterback, the 2016 compensation part of it would be a factor in my decision but not THE major factor.

CONCUSSION STUDY

I found your segment on the long-term impact of football and cumulative head trauma to be an interesting read. It reminded me of an article I read last year in the Chicago Tribune that drew similar conclusions about a sport that is potentially as dangerous, with regard to cumulative head trauma, as football—that being soccer. I wonder if the NFL should be looking to partner with the other football as it conducts further studies, as they appear on the surface, to share problems and potentially similar solutions.

—Tim C., Arlington, Va.

Interesting point, Tim. The NFL has partnered with the military to compare notes on helmet technology, because there are similarities to head trauma in each profession. Soccer would be an interesting collaborator too.

• THE DRAFT’S X FACTORS: Moves for Paxton Lynch, Jalen Ramsey could shake up the early first round

CHIP KELLY ON SPECIAL TEAMS

Thought the quote you had from Chip Kelly about having to use key players on special teams was interesting, and it made me wonder how much special teams contribute to injuries. I'm wondering if a compromise solution to try and reduce injuries without radically changing the game is to do something like expanding the practice squad to 10-15 players and allowing them to dress on game days but only to play special teams. Basically, it would allow coaches to fill the majority of special teams with players who aren't starters or second-team guys, and reduce their injury exposure. 

—Gus

Really interesting proposal, Gus. I like it a lot. And I think this could be a compromise solution to the long-debated issue of increasing roster size and number of players dressing on game day. I do think owners, currently, will not want to increase rosters; the owners’ view I’m sure is that there’s not a drastic need for it. If, say, four really good players suffered career-ending injuries in a season while covering punts or kickoffs, maybe owners would see it differently. But when the 43rd player on a roster suffers a torn ACL and is lost for the year on special teams, owners simply view that as a cost of doing business. If you said to an owner, “You can dress five more players on game days, but only to play special teams,” the first thing that owner would think of is that would cost him an extra $1.5 million or $2 million per year, and why do I want to do that? In other words, it might be good for the game and for the health of his roster, but it’s an added cost without—in the owners’ eyes—the game crying out for it.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

While I agree the women deserve more money, I disagree that they deserve equal money. Here’s why: Just look at the TV ratings. If you believe women deserve equal money, then do you believe women football players in a women’s football league deserve the same amount of money as NFL players? I don't think so...

—Peter G.

I’ll quibble with you here: The biggest women’s World Cup game in 2015 was watched by 25.4 million fans in the U.S. The most-watched men’s World Cup game in 2014 was watched by 18.2 million fans. You would argue, I’m sure, that if the U.S. men were ever in the World Cup final, the game would be watched by far more than 25.4 million people, and I’m sure you are right. But the women’s argument is fairly simple: Comparing the peak games for men and women, more people watched the women. I am quite sympathetic to their argument.

• INSIDE THE RAMS’ MOVE: The MMQB went behind the scenes to look at the logistical complexity of the Rams’ nomadic season to come

ON FLORIDA STATE’S ROBERTO AGUAYO

During its long history of ignominy, the New Orleans Saints selected Russell Erxleben in the first round, No. 11 overall, of the 1979 draft, on the supposed reasoning that he would save them a roster spot because he would both kick and punt. So even if Roberto Aguayo is picked in the second round, he will not be selected as high as Erxleben.

—Gregory M.

There was another one, too; Charlie Gogolak went to Washington in Round 1 of 1966 draft. There have been interesting—shall we say—pieces of reasoning for picking kickers very high in drafts. I usually think of it this way: Jan Stenerud is the only pure placekicker in the Hall of Fame. I would think Adam Vinatieri has a good chance to make the Hall one day. Neither kicker was drafted. Now, that’s not anything definitive, and I understand great kickers can be drafted too. But there’s little correlation between where a kicker is drafted, or whether he is, and long-term NFL success.

CLEVELAND A LOSER ON DRAFT DAY

A point I wanted to make related to Robert Mays’ interesting discussion of Jared Goff and Tim Couch. I am a Steelers fan born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. So, I'm in the middle of the Browns’ world. That list of Browns QBs since the team was re-established is well known here. But there’s another way to look at it. Just look at the QBs that have started a game since 2004. Because that was the year that Cleveland took Kellen Winslow Jr. with the sixth overall pick. And the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger at No. 11. THAT moment set the next decade-plus in motion for the two franchises. And that was straight up for the Steelers and straight down for the Browns. Well, they were already down. But had Cleveland taken Roethlisberger and gotten the stability he provided, their fortunes likely would have been a LOT better. And who knows if the Steelers would have been the perennial Super Bowl contender they've been with Ben if somebody else was under center? That draft absolutely set the paths for two NFL franchises in completely opposite directions. And the Browns have no one to blame but themselves.

—Bob B.

Good points. As usual in NFL annals, the winners on draft day translate to winners on the field.

ON SPRINGSTEEN

You won’t believe this, but my wife and I took our 10- and 14-year-old boys to Springsteen’s show Sunday night in Oklahoma City. The ticket price? $6.00 via StubHub. We were in the upper deck of the venue where the Thunder plays, but looking straight on to the stage. We emphasized to the kids that it didn’t really matter where we sat, they would at least be in the same room with the legendary Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. We bought the seats an hour before the show and didn’t tell the boys what we were doing until we arrived. They were allowed to pick up something from the concessions—the older one wanted the tour shirt, the younger one wanted the Asbury Park sunglasses. As usual, Springsteen blew through three hours of a literally non-stop show. You know it was a landmark event when both boys voluntarily gave us a “thank you” for taking them as they crawled into bed just after midnight. They are still glowing this morning.

—Chris

New converts to the tribe! I am so pleased.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.  

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.