How did Twitter, NFL perform in first live streaming deal?

Friday January 20th, 2017

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Last month, the NFL and Twitter capped off the first live streaming deal between a major U.S. professional league and social media platform. The 10-game package spread over 2016 saw Twitter “pleased” at the season’s midpoint while it also reported that 70% of the live streaming audience was under the age of 35 after five games.

Yes, Twitter passed its inaugural broadcast test on Sept. 15 between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, reaching 2.3 million viewers between the pregame and game itself. But how did the social platform and the league fare over the remaining nine games, which were all available for free throughout the world except Canada?
“(Twitter is) still the real-time platform despite the doom and gloom that you hear about of people walking out the door,” said John McCauley, a 15-year veteran in digital sports marketing and Managing Director at GJM Media. “They’re still the best platform for ‘live’ in my estimation.”

Added Zack Sugarman, Vice President of Social Media and Digital at Wasserman: “Personally, this was by far the newest partnership or platform from a technology perspective that I used the most.”

Sugarman said that the deal had even his friends who aren’t necessarily die-hard sports fans discussing with him the benefits of the live streaming initiative; yet, there was still room for improvement. While the 15 to 30-second delay between the linear broadcast and the live stream remained constant throughout the entire season, Sugarman said for him it didn’t affect his viewing.

“It doesn’t matter that much to me because the use case is more for people on-the-go and not watching on TV,” Sugarman said, adding that the high-quality of the HD broadcast feed was his main focus. “If they’re watching at home, they’re probably just using Twitter in the traditional sense with the timeline and not necessarily the stream and the TV going at the same time.”

Still, the constant lag is one of Twitter’s “biggest priorities” as it has caused “a little bit” of a backlash, according to Jonno Simpson, Head of Partnerships (Sport/Food).

“Twitter owns the live experience, and there’s nothing worse than waiting for a penalty to be scored, you are looking at Twitter while watching the game and you see a tweet going ‘goal’ when you haven’t seen it on the screen,” Simpson said, according to AdNews. “There’s nothing worse than that.”

Overall, though, Twitter’s live streaming deal with the NFL went “incredibly well” as Laura Froelich, Head of Sports Partnerships, recently commented to Geekwire.

For McCauley, his proximity to a television would largely dictate if he’d watch an NFL or another sports game on Twitter. If he could decide, he’d still watch it “on the biggest screen possible.”

“I don’t think anyone would ever get up out of their bed or off the couch and say, ‘Oh, the Pats game is on. I need to turn on Twitter.’ Some cord-cutters 10 years down the road, that may be the way,” he said. 

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As it stands, the NFL is still vetting live streaming partners for next season, according to a league spokesperson to SportTechie but if it was again to partner with Twitter for 2017, Sugarman of Wasserman said he’d like to see a fantasy sports element or player statistics included in the viewing window. This season, the live streamed video — which was pulled from the linear broadcast — appeared on one part of the screen while users could scroll through a curated timeline on the other side.

Additionally, having a more respected timeline was an improvement Sugarman suggested, too, along with other Twitter users. It was arguably the biggest complaint of the season-long broadcast on Twitter.

As Twitter expands their portfolio of live broadcast offerings — and possibly continues forward with the NFL — McCauley of GJM Media cautioned the decade-old platform to steer clear of overpaying for broadcast rights and realize how it fits into the sports and social ecosystem; for the 2016 deal with the NFL, it was reported that Twitter paid $10 million for the 10-game package.

“They don’t want to play where the big broadcasters are and realize what their niche really is,” McCauley said. “Twitter is additive to the live audience, it’s about extra distribution and also allowing partners of the NFL to go after a different demo.”

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