Tweets and touchdowns: why Twitter and the NFL is a perfect partnership

Involving NFL fans in the action as it happens plays to Twitter's strengths and creates new opportunities for sports organisations, sponsors and advertisers to reach millennials

Last night Twitter live streamed a NFL game for the first time. Receiving an overwhelmingly positive reception, it was a rare glimmer of bright news for the microblogging site in what’s been a pretty gloomy business atmosphere of late for Jack Dorsey and co.

It was one of ten matches it will show this season for the relatively cheap price of $10 million.

Twitter bagged the deal at such a rate partly because savvy NFL executives bought into the potential of what a partnership might mean for exposure, fan engagement and brand building. The league can test the mood and appetite for this kind of event from spectators and sponsors while Twitter can try to build a new revenue stream and pull in much needed users.

As an avid Twitter user, big NFL follower and someone who specialises in content, last night’s experiment was a wonderful collision of interests.

Second screen to first down

Twitter is commonly referred to as a ‘second screen’ experience in the context of sport viewing. In other words, you watch the main event on your television (first screen) and flick to the phone or tablet in your hand (second screen) to comment and engage with other viewers and media.

For younger generations the concept of ‘passive’ viewing of sport on the couch is as hard to understand as the idea of sending a friend a physical letter instead of a Whatsapp or Snapchat message. You don’t just watch sport, you comment. You don’t listen solely to the commentary team, you seek other voices.

I frequently live blog sport with The Daily Telegraph and Twitter is a welcome well of opinion, rumour, insight and oddball thinking on which to draw some colourful content to freshen up a blog and involve your readers. However much this may be anathema to traditionalists, this is how millions now choose to consume their sports. 

Yesterday evening, as the New York Jets played the Buffalo Bills, Twitter viewers could blow up the action to fill their screens or use the default setting which shrunk the game action and flanked it with a live stream of moderated game related tweets and content.

I loved it. The sport’s stop-start nature, which infuriates so many, neatly fits the rhythm of social media. You can read Tweets, post them or share them between the stoppages. The tweets nicely form a sort of punctuation for the set-pieces.

Events like last night are looking to blur, if not completely mesh, the boundaries between first and second screens and will become ever more commonplace.

This was sport viewing built for the millennial generation. Or at least the way Twitter, with its worrying growth and revenue problems, hopes the millennial generation want their sport viewing built.

A new playing field

It will be fascinating to see how major sporting organisations such as England’s Premier League respond. Some leagues, like the NBA, are already dipping their toes in the water with Twitter, but have not yet chosen to dunk deeper.

I think that’s going to change. I’ve little doubt last night was a watershed in how we view sports. Twitter’s positive NFL trial will help to rapidly accelerate the process and you can expect more moves in this area not just from Twitter, but other major social media platforms.

You don’t need to know your linebackers from your slot receivers to realise that last night was a game changer. It will be compelling to see how brands, content creators and marketers choose to adapt to the new playing field that’s now being marked up. 

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