The NFL Is Looking to Woo New Viewers With TikTok

Deal will bring behind-the-scenes footage to 'future fans,' league says

NFL, TikTok Banner, composite of football players
The NFL will bring its content to the short-form video app popular with young people. TikTok
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

The National Football League is going big on TikTok.

As part of a two-year partnership, the NFL will bring new content every week to the short-form mobile video app that’s wildly popular among young people, the league announced on Tuesday.

Game highlights, sideline moments and behind-the-scenes footage will live on the NFL’s TikTok page, and the league will roll out several football-themed hashtag challenges that encourage people on the app to create their own themed videos using a prompt. Those hashtag challenges will be centered on tentpole events like the draft, NFL Kickoff and the Super Bowl.

The first hashtag challenge as part of the partnership is called #WeReady, and is intended to get fans to show off their excitement for the upcoming season that begins Thursday.

NFL vice president Blake Stuchin said in a statement that the partnership served as an extension of the league’s existing media strategy and would reach “fans and future fans.”

“The NFL programming and hashtag challenges are a perfect way to kick off the NFL’s 100th season—with fun, new content that will entertain fans and invites them to celebrate and experience their NFL fandom in a way that’s authentic to the unique experience of TikTok,” Stuchin said.

The NFL’s move to TikTok comes as the sports brand has lost ground among young viewers and courted controversy with its pushback against protesting players, though it saw some ratings rebounds in 2018.

It’s not the first sports league to invest in TikTok. Both the National Basketball Association (which has more than 5 million followers) and the International Cricket Council (which has more than 1 million followers) have struck partnerships with TikTok to bring their content to the app and engage with fans, a TikTok spokesperson said.

As of mid-morning Tuesday, the NFL’s new TikTok page had racked up more than 250,000 followers.

TikTok, which shows users short-form vertical videos in an endless feed, is fast growing in popularity in the U.S., which was downloaded more than a billion times worldwide in 2018. The app, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, saw more than 37 million first-time downloads in August 2019 alone, according to the research firm Sensor Tower; on Tuesday, the app was the No. 1 free app in Apple’s app store, and No. 15 among Android apps in Google Play.

Brands of all stripes are joining TikTok in an effort to find young, engaged audiences. Kroger, a grocery brand, rolled out a shoppable campaign on the app in August to showcase its back-to-school offerings; apparel brands like Ralph Lauren and Hollister have also worked with the platform on hashtag challenges and in-stream advertisements. Media buyers told Adweek earlier this year that individual hashtag challenges cost brands $150,000 for six days with promotion, and that TikTok was advising advertisers to budget an additional $100,000 to $200,000 to promote the hashtag challenge on the platform.

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.