While the digital age of sports has been creeping along for years now, the NFL’s new agreement with Twitter to live stream Thursday night football games may usher in a new era of content distribution. Leagues have been providing streaming options for consumers, for a price, usually through some league-centric platform such as the NBA’s League Pass, NFL’s Sunday Ticket, or baseball’s MLB.TV. These heavily authenticated options were the first steps in providing millennials and cord-cutters an alternative to the traditional sports content distribution model.
Next, the NHL and NFL through partnerships with Yahoo! have tested the waters to varying depths, four free hockey games a week and a Jaguars/Bills football game from London, by providing free games to consumers. This was a move toward the more traditional model where the leagues sold content to a media partner, which then distributed it to consumers for free with the hopes of generating revenue through advertising and the ability to create shoulder content around the games. The big difference being that instead of network television providing the games, it was now a digital media company.
The NFL on Twitter era brings a new twist to this evolving media landscape. Not only do we have a digital media company purchasing the rights to broadcast games, but one that is most well-known for social media. The ability to broadcast Thursday games over the season places Twitter at the table with network powers NBC and CBS, which will broadcast five games each each year over the next two years. There aren’t enough emojis or hash tags to indicate how big of a step that is for a platform that is more synonymous with passive aggressive posts from NBA stars and feuding NFL players than digital content distribution.
This is the biggest test yet for determining what the future of content looks like in a digital world. The NFL is the content king, not only for sports, but for all of entertainment, with its games routinely at the top of the Nielsen ratings every year. How does that translate to streaming? What type of over-the-top (OTT) options will be made available to aid with consumption? How will advertisers respond to Twitter’s 10-game slate, and will they get a sufficient ROI on their spend?
These questions highlight why it’s an exciting era for content creators, advertisers, consumers, and content distributors. There’s a potentially fertile terrain being developed through digital platforms one acre at a time that will shape the future of the business of sports.