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Twitter Wins NFL Deal To Stream 2016 Thursday Night Football

Nigel Bradham of the Buffalo Bills celebrates a touchdown in the October game against Jacksonville Jaguars in London. Yahoo's online stream of the event was one of the NFL's digital tests.
Alan Crowhurst Getty Images
Nigel Bradham of the Buffalo Bills celebrates a touchdown in the October game against Jacksonville Jaguars in London. Yahoo's online stream of the event was one of the NFL's digital tests.

The NFL has struck a deal with Twitter to live stream, for free, the 2016 season of Thursday Night Football online through the social media site.

For the NFL, this is a push to reach the growing cohort of people who might not have a cable subscription. For Twitter, it might prove to be a major win in its ongoing challenge to attract and keep new users.

It's unclear what exactly the game stream will look like — we know the games will be presented on and the Twitter mobile app, but Twitter isn't sharing any further specifics for now. Other companies that were considered in competition for the streaming rights included Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon and Verizon.


The NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, confirmed the news Tuesday on Twitter, though they didn't disclose the price tag or other terms of the deal. The deal is rumored to be around $10 million-$15 million.

NFL spokesman Alex Riethmiller confirms to NPR that Twitter's bid was, in fact, not the highest that the league received. But he says the NFL liked Twitter's reach and demographics as well as how the platform complemented broadcasts, adding that "we have worked with them for several years with success."

As Bloomberg reports, the NFL has streamed some games in the past, but this marks a first season-long streaming deal in addition to its regular TV and cable broadcasts:

"The league is using Thursday night games, which draw smaller audiences than the contests on Sundays and Mondays, to experiment with different kinds of media, distribution models and technologies. By the time the NFL's biggest broadcast contracts expire in 2021, it will be prepared to sell a broad array of digital rights — and make more money."

In a statement, Goodell also pointed out that the agreement provides "additional reach for those brands advertising with our broadcast partners."

Twitter also has a former NFL executive in its ranks: The company's chief financial officer previously held the same position at the league.


As Re/Code points out, in essence, "the NFL has constructed a deal where it gets more money for the same games it has already sold a couple of times," as the streaming will be in addition to the NFL's existing deals with mobile provider Verizon and with broadcasters. Re/Code adds:

"(Streaming deal) numbers are a fraction of the $450 million CBS and NBC collectively paid for the rights to broadcast the Thursday games. ... One big reason for the disparity is that CBS and NBC have their own digital rights, and they will own most of the digital ad inventory in their games, people familiar with the deal say. So Twitter will be rebroadcasting the CBS and NBC feeds of the games, and will have the rights to sell a small portion of the ads associated with each game."

Yahoo paid about $20 million for the rights to show an NFL game played in London in October, according to The New York Times:

"Yahoo and the league said the game attracted more than 15.2 million unique users, nearly five times more than the previous record for a streaming audience, the 2014 World Cup match between Belgium and the American national team. "By comparison, 1.4 million viewers watched the streamed version of this year's Super Bowl by CBS and the N.F.L. "But after a mathematical conversion that Yahoo disputes, the 15.2 million unique users for the Bills-Jaguars game turns into the television equivalent of 2.36 million average viewers, about 1.6 million in the United States."

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