The NFL Continues to Go Solo in Digital

Focuses on its own apps, social experiences over Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

When it comes to digital partnerships, the NFL likes to say no.

During a press event in New York on Wednesday (highlighted by Marshall Faulk’s bow tie, among other things), reps from the NFL Network talked about a slew of new second-screen apps, including a single mobile app that works across carriers, as well as two apps tied to specific NFL Network shows. The league knows that huge numbers of its fans play fantasy football and/or are inclined to watch games with mobile devices in hand.

And while plenty of NFL fans congregate in social media, the league feels its second-screen apps have an advantage, given the amount of stats and exclusive video and interviews it can provide (though that's also true of ESPN, Yahoo and any of the networks that broadcast its games). “It starts with a passionate fan base,” said Greg Isaacs, the league’s vp of digital media. ”And the trends we’ve seen are that 50 [percent] to 80 percent of fans watch our games with a second screen.”

But what was perhaps most noteworthy—telling even—about Wednesday's event was the absence of digital partnerships announced by the NFL. The league didn’t unveil any distribution deals with the current belle of the TV ball, Twitter (unlike say, the NCAA). Nothing with Facebook, Apple or Netflix. There were no other social TV players on the stage. And despite having some of the most desirable video content on the planet, the league still has no formal arrangement with YouTube (though pirated clips are plentiful). UPDATED: It should be noted that the NFL did ink a deal with Microsoft that will allow Xbox users to enjoy an enhanced game experience this season.

“We talk to all the major players,” said Isaacs. When it comes to social TV apps, he added, “we’re continuing to monitor to see who’s got traction.”

What about the increasingly powerful, hard-to-ignore Web giants? “We don’t have a relationship with Twitter," said Isaacs. "We continue to talk to everyone. Regarding YouTube, our content is valuable. We should get a fair value. But we also want to balance fan consumption. We work with them to monitor piracy. We don’t endorse it.”

But overall, it’s clear that the NFL is all about its own properties. In a way, that’s because it can afford to—it’s the most valuable media franchise in the U.S.

“Anyone on the scale [of YouTube or Twitter], we talk to,” said Isaacs. “But we are focused on"

What about the report that Google may be interested in snatching up the NFL Sunday Ticket package next year from DirecTV—a move that could potentially shake up the TV and cable businesses? “That deal is not up for a couple of years,” said Isaacs. “We want to help fans get content everywhere. And we are supporters of TV Everywhere.

“We have an interest in the cable and satellite model continuing to grow,” he added.

Recommended articles