The NFL-Twitter deal: Second-screen Viewing, International Growth and the Next Roone Arledge?

Racepoint Global

Written by Scott Barboza, Senior Account Executive at Racepoint Global

In television (and in social media), much attention has been paid to the phenomenon of second-screen viewing.

Perhaps there’s no better arena to examine the ramifications of how smartphone and tablets are affecting the way consumers watch television than a typical NFL Sunday. Like the season cliff-hanger of “Game of Thrones” or the latest presidential debate, watching professional football is not a single-track task. Those viewing appointments have become communal exercises and, with football in particular, the product on the tube is merely one component to the drama of the game.

Modern football wouldn’t be quite the spectacle it is without fantasy sports (that takes at least one screen, maybe more depending on how many games of interest are on at a particular time and how many leagues the view might be monitoring). And, of course, there’s social media. Everybody has an opinion and a voice while watching the games; it’s a rite nearly as old as sport itself, harkening back to the days of gladiatorial sport where the vox populi determined the fate of the contestants in the round.

But it came as a bit of a shock to the system when it was reported on Tuesday that Twitter had beat out the likes of Amazon and Verizon to stream a package of NFL games – 10 of its 16 Thursday night offerings to be exact.


The news was met with both a level of mouth-agape awe and incredulity around industry circles in tech and sports, alike. In reality, what the agreement translates to isn’t as earth-shattering as it might have seemed on the surface. The $10 million Twitter will pay the NFL, as reported by Re/code’s Peter Kafka, for the rights to simulcast the games on its platform are utterly inconsequential compared to the league’s billion-dollar agreements with major television rights holders CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC. For a bit more of an immediate comparison, last year, Yahoo! paid a reported $20 million to stream a regular-season game that was played in London, as part of the NFL’s International Series. The result left a lot to be desired.

What is largely being omitted from the national media discussion (primarily among the tech media) is perhaps the primary reason the NFL found a perfect match in Twitter – that is the NFL’s longstanding and oft-stated obsession with entering the international sporting consciousness, particularly in Western Europe. While the NFL reports on its website that games are broadcasted in 234 countries around the globe, those are often limited packages that might not allow fans to watch their favorite teams (I’m looking at you Jacksonville Jaguars fans in Azerbaijan!) consistently. What Twitter almost universally offers (Sorry, to NFL fans in Pyongyang, where Twitter is banned) is immediate penetration into international markets. Many fans in those far-flung outposts resort to pirated feeds of the games to get their weekly fix. Now, with a foothold with one of the two global leaders in social media, the NFL is taking another step on its path to taking the game global.

In an interview with CNBC, NFL senior vice president of media strategy, business development and sales Hans Schroder said the league chose Twitter because of its “unique way to drive engagement.” If you read between the lines of Schroder’s comments, another of the league’s motives for choosing Twitter reveals itself, and one that advertisers should view with optimism. Unlike the “Game of Thrones” analogy I referred to earlier, sports is one of the few remaining bastions of television watched live. According to Nielsen’s “The Year in Sports Media Report” published in February, 95 percent of total sports programming viewed happened live. While Twitter will not yield the immediate advertising benefits the NFL’s traditional television partners reap due to the previsions of the deal, which limits the advertising blocks Twitter can sell, advertisers can find a boom in what NFL programming offers – a direct tap into the highly coveted millennial male demographic.

So while some have deadpanned Twitter’s part in the agreement, let’s not forget how sports – in particular, professional football – helped usher in the golden age of American television programming. The NFL has as much a debt to Roone Arledge, the famed ABC president who helped create “Monday Night Football”, as it does Pete Rozelle, the scion of the modern-day NFL; that was very much a collaborative effort. Many forget the LA Coliseum was only about two-thirds full for Super Bowl I, but Rozelle’s intrepid move to have the game between Vince Lombardi’s Packers and Hank Stram’s Chiefs simulcasted on CBS and NBC went a long way to establishing football as America’s game.

If the NFL’s success story as a media behemoth has taught us anything, it’s that the league has had an unusual knack for riding the crest of monumental shifts in media consumption habits.

Maybe Jack Dorsey is just the next Roone Arledge. If so, this is just the first step.

Scott Barboza is a Senior Account Executive at Racepoint Global and is a veteran of sports media, most recently as a multimedia journalist for He also spent three years working for the New England Patriots.


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