Twitter Will Stream 10 Thursday Night Football Games Next Season

Social platform's deal with NFL could end its stalled growth

The NFL has a new livestreaming social media partner, but it's not Facebook. Instead, it's Facebook's top competition: Twitter.

The social platform, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, will stream live NFL games next season. The league had been looking for a digital-only partner like Amazon, Verizon or Facebook, which had made its interest known before backing out, to stream its Thursday Night Football games.

Twitter paid around $10 million for the rights, according to Re/code, a fraction of the $450 million CBS and NBC collectively paid for the rights to broadcast the Thursday games. CBS and NBC also have digital rights, including the majority of the digital ad sales, but their platforms are only available to TV subscribers. The Twitter deal is aimed at cord-cutters. The games will be available across Twitter's mobile platform—though Verizon still maintains exclusive mobile rights—as well as tablets, PCs and some connected TVs.

Twitter has spent the past few years getting a foothold in sports, partnering with leagues via its Twitter Amplify program, which the NFL has been using since 2013. From its inception, Twitter's design has allowed itself to be a place for social conversation around big sporting events, fashioning itself as sort of an online sports bar for users. But now with live games, Twitter has the one thing that most actual sports bars have.

"Twitter is where live events unfold and is the right partner for the NFL as we take the latest step in serving fans around the world live NFL football," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.  "There is a massive amount of NFL-related conversation happening on Twitter during our games and tapping into that audience, in addition to our viewers on broadcast and cable, will ensure Thursday Night Football is seen on an unprecedented number of platforms this season. This agreement also provides additional reach for those brands advertising with our broadcast partners."

Twitter will stream the 10 games airing on NBC and CBS, while the NFL Network will also simulcast the broadcast games, meaning that those games will have three different providers. Twitter will also provide pregame and postgame streams of the players and teams on Periscope. The NFL Network will carry the remaining eight TNF games.

Twitter boasts a user base of around 800 million, but only 320 million users are active. Growth has stalled over the past few years as it has been viewed mainly as a platform for journalists, politicians and celebrities. Making the site appeal to those outside that segment is key to adding more users. For the NFL, this helps the league market itself toward cord-cutters, something that all of the professional leagues are paying attention to.

The deal marks a continued investment in over-the-top delivery of games by sports leagues. Last year, the NFL streamed a game on Yahoo and is looking at a separate deal to stream three upcoming games from London. Yahoo recently cut a deal with the NHL to stream four games per week, and just began offering daily baseball games as well. The NHL, MLB and NBA all offer streaming packages for out-of-market games; Twitter has been providing direct access to NBA League Pass games this season. The NFL also has a broadband version of its Sunday Ticket Package with DirecTV.

"This is about transforming the fan experience with football. People watch NFL games with Twitter today," said Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO.

Facebook had attempted to break into sports earlier this year when it launched Facebook Sports Stadium, but the platform's big debut during Super Bowl 50 didn't go so well.

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