Now we know the NFL is very concerned about declining ratings. In an era of expanded distribution channels, behind the scenes access and digital content, the NFL is taking its ball and going home. According to ESPN, the NFL has banned GIFs and live streaming video — Facebook Lives and Periscope — by all teams during games. The NFL’s digital revolution will not be televised.
The NFL can tweet highlights from its account, but teams cannot. That means that great touchdown catch from your favorite receiver must come from the NFL account, or teams will face a hefty fine. The NFL is putting a stranglehold on content. Trying to control it at every step of the way.
That’s good for its television partners. Fans wanting to see a big play can no longer hop on social media and check it out. They either have to watch the game on traditional television or hope the NFL posts the GIF or video. It’s an antiquated way of thinking. Taking away content to force people to watch what content the NFL deems allowable is twisted logic. It won’t work.
The NBA has one of the most open social media policy in sports. Vines, GIFs, Periscope, anything that makes fans engaged are allowed. The NBA is essentially flooding every distribution channel with content and the NBA’s TV viewership increased. This isn’t the only thing that helped the NBA’s ratings. Correlation does not imply causation. But when sports are struggling to connect with cord cutters and millennials, anything that can interest the fan helps. Maybe someone sees a highlight in a close game and decides it’s time to turn on the TV.
The NFL went the opposite way, and it’s a method that doesn’t make sense. If the league wants to grow the fan base, an easy way to do so is to turn a casual fan into a team fanatic first. The best way for teams to connect with potential fans is to provide them with content. The best way to do that is over social and digital. Teams can’t do that if they are getting fined. Look at what the Panthers had to post after a score on Monday Night Football.
That is the opposite of engaging.
Look, it’s a new era of distribution. It’s a struggling time for leagues and their media partners. We get it. These billion dollar deals don’t pay for themselves and the only way to recoup the investment is for people to watch commercials on TV. But the method the NFL is using is backward. Stop keeping fans away from content and alienating them, and maybe they will come back. Make the NFL as fun as possible.
As well as MLB has done with its digital venture — MLB Advanced Media — it is backward on GIFs, Vines and streaming. It wants to control exactly what is seen. That is no longer the fan experience. If the NFL wants to replicate MLB’s current demographics, the league is well within its rights. In a time when content is king and behind-the-scenes and compelling digital access can drive viewers, the NFL is cutting back. It’s taking the opposite approach of how the market is trending and likely won’t drive fans back to their TV sets.