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Twitter corners sports digital media market with deals to carry every big-four league

Twitter's deal with MLB and NHL puts it in position to be the leader in sports digital distribution if it can execute on current deals.

MLB and the NHL have come to deals with Twitter on streaming live games, and now the social media site has deals with all big-four major leagues in the United States. Twitter has essentially cornered the sports market with its agreements, and if things go well the company could expand its offerings with each league.

The discussion of sports moving to digital platforms has been around for a while now. Originally the thought was a company with a lot of cash on its balance sheet could make a play for full distribution rights. This meant the only names that popped up were typically Apple and Google (now Alphabet). As far back as 2012 people said that Apple might even bid on Premier League rights. The problem with that line of thought is that digital distribution wasn’t as large as it is now, and it would’ve been extremely difficult to monetize the investment.

Even at this time, Twitter and its league partners are only slowly launching digital options. This won’t be full distribution as only one MLB game will be shown each week. It’s still a great test run for both Twitter and the leagues.

Twitter could benefit from being the first mover with relationships with every major league. Commissioners and league executives talk . . . a lot. If they are comfortable with what Twitter is doing to help their sport, they will give great reviews to other people in the industry. League leadership loves when they don’t have to worry about things going wrong. They enjoy it when business processes become routine. If Twitter can be that reliable digital distribution partner, then logic tells us the leagues won’t want to — or have to — go anywhere else for a partner.

Essentially Twitter is on a very important tryout. If it performs, the leagues may sign on with Twitter for the longer term instead of going to a competing company for distribution because of familiarity.

Obviously, money rules the day. Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet or Verizon could throw a large amount of money to wrestle distribution rights away from Twitter. Twitter also has to prove to its shareholders that it is making money off its sports deals. It’s all fun and games while they have these limited rights, but if they don’t do anything to help, Twitter is back where it was as an underperforming company — and stock. The market is currently waiting to see how Twitter can actually turn these deals into profit.

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