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After the NFL successfully livestreamed one Internet-only regular-season game last year, the league promised to more fully explore the idea of making money on livestreams.
Facebook, Verizon Wireless, and Amazon were known to have shown serious interest in partnering with the league, but on Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that it had chosen Twitter as its streaming partner for 10 Thursday night games during the 2016 season.
The partnership makes sense, because NFL games (and in-game controversies in the middle of NFL contests) already generate tons of chatter on Twitter. Having a weekly game livestreamed on the same social-media platform where fans already spend much of their NFL-watching time seems like a winning strategy.
“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,” Goodell said in a statement. “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.”
Aside from streaming the game, Twitter’s deal also lets it show in-game highlights and pregame Periscope broadcasts from players and teams. Plus, as the New York Times points out, “streaming the game free to 185 countries will let fans in places where the NFL does not have major broadcast partners to see a live matchup.”
The NFL livestreamed last year’s Week 7 Bills-Jaguars matchup on Yahoo, and while there were some complaints about the quality of the stream, the experiment was generally lauded as a success, with 33.6 million people tuning in online and with Yahoo paying the league $20 million for the rights.
Though neither the league nor Twitter have announced the cost of the deal, Re/code reported that Twitter paid less than $10 million for the entire 10-game slate; other bidders reportedly offered more than $15 million for the 10 games.
It’s worth noting that CBS and NBC each paid about $45 million per game to broadcast Thursday Night Football on TV during the next two seasons.
The Twitter livestream will coincide with the 10 games broadcast on network TV and will use the feeds and commercials shown on NBC and CBS.
The NFL Network also will show the games, and in its news release, the league called it a “Tri-Cast” distribution model, combining network broadcasts (NBC and CBS are splitting the 10 games per season), cable (the league-owned network), and digital (Twitter).
“This is about transforming the fan experience with football. People watch NFL games with Twitter today,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said in a statement. “Now they’ll be able to watch right on Twitter Thursday nights.”
Josh Katzowitz is a staff writer at the Daily Dot specializing in YouTube and boxing. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A longtime sports writer, he's covered the NFL for CBSSports.com and boxing for Forbes. His work has been noted twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series.