The Reasoning Behind the NFL and Twitter Deal


Much like the world's top model still questioning if she's the most beautiful woman in a room, only the NFL, America's most profitable, powerful, and ubiquitous sports brand, could be worried about whether they've reached every single potential fan. There's an innocence and ambition in that insecurity, but it's not without merit. While the football powers that be may own most traditional media brands, basketball and its fans own Twitter. So as of next season, the NFL will start streaming 10 Thursday Night games to the platform's more than 300 million active users.

Twitter beat out larger competitors including Facebook, Yahoo!, Verizon, and Amazon for the deal, which is particularly surprising given the low figure — between $10–$15 million — Twitter paid for the lot. Compare that to $20 million Yahoo! paid to stream a single Sunday morning game between two terrible teams, the Bills and Jaguars, playing in London last season at an hour before most Americans wake up on the weekends (even for football). ESPN currently pays $1.1 billion per season for it's weekly Monday Night game, or about $68 million per contest.

Despite the fact that everyone stands to lose a little money on the deal (Morgan Stanley estimates Twitter can only make about $6 million back in revenue since CBS and NBC own national advertising rights during the games), the NFL likely offered the struggling platform a discount because it represents the most potential to somehow grow its massive brand. "This is about transforming the fan experience with football," Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said. "People watch NFL games with Twitter today. Now they'll be able to watch right on Twitter Thursday nights."

It's why Twitter created their Moments tab last year, which has had very mixed reviews from users. But with a little innovation in the coming months, the tiresome two-screen experience can now be merged so that you won't miss a play with your head buried in your phone. Now it's all there within the same frame.

It's a bold, important step for sports media with very little possibility of failure. It's also a convenient proving ground for the greater potential of a less powerful league. You see, there is Twitter, and there is Basketball Twitter. In January The New Republic's Maxwell Neely-Cohen appropriately dubbed Twitter, "the epicenter of basketball fandom, a beating heart and a central nervous system, a place where serious statistical analysis flows alongside highlights, jokes, exclamations, and inane trash talk from every conceivable corner of the world."

Insane fans have a community, carved up by how different people want to experience the game, be it play-by-play, sports business, fashion, or celebrity, and casual fans have a digital water cooler at which to meet and get everything they need to stay in the conversation. Just scroll back on your feed to the moment Villanova's Kris Jenkins hit his shot at the buzzer to win the NCAA title game Monday night, and you'll see an eruption of OMGs and crying Jordans, calm Jay Wrights, excited security guards, whining, referee debates, gambling talk, and active game dissection.

Basketball fans don't surround their Twitter conversations around domestic abuse or deflated balls, but instead champion the feats that still seem otherworldly to its audience of rec league peons. It's a place seemingly built for them of memes and Vines and moments, and it's so important to the players, too, 70 percent of whom are active-bordering-obsessive on the platform, that "The Great NBA Emoji War of 2015" happened among top athletes out in the open on Twitter.

The NBA has built its youth and worldwide strength on the back of social media, particularly Twitter, and have put in the time and effort to grow with the platform. Now the NFL wants that, too, but would rather throw money at innovation in its catering of fans. They want to create a space where every conversation about sports is about how great their league is and, more importantly, they want every dollar that conversation creates. They've seen what the NBA can do with Twitter, and they're willing to take the next step, because much like how Tom Brady never stops working to prove he's history's best quarterback, the NFL is relentless in its pursuit of dominating culture.

Whether they prove to be that beautiful woman strolling through a room, or Germany strolling into Russia during the winter is another conversation, likely happening right now on Twitter.

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