Twitter To Live Stream All Ten Thursday Night N.F.L. Games

All of next season's Thursday Night N.F.L. games will be streamed live for free via Twitter.


In yet another example of the changing media landscape, all ten of the games that the N.F.L. will play on Thursday night this season will be streamed live on Twitter:

Eager to reach the growing number of younger fans without televisions, the N.F.L. has signed a deal with Twitter to broadcast 10 Thursday night regular-season games free over the Internet.

The partnership will allow Twitter to push furtherinto the sports world to attract new users now that the growth in its core business, an instant messaging platform, has slowed.

At the same time, the N.F.L. has recognized that more fans are forgoing traditional cable and satellite connections and relying primarily on the Internet to watch video.

The league also wants to maximize its revenue by selling the streaming rights to its games separately, a strategy that initially might have alarmed its traditional broadcast partners, who spend heavily for the right to show games over the air.

In this deal, though, Twitter will show the networks’ ads and only sell ads during the spots normally sold by for local affiliates. This allowed Twitter to pay less than it might have otherwise and it will allow NBC and CBS, which recently bought the rights to show Thursday night games, to reach more viewers.

Twitter and the N.F.L. have not decided on the specifics of how the games will be displayed online. Along with appearing on Twitter’s mobile and desktop apps, the company said it will show on video game consoles that use Twitter apps, such as Microsoft’s Xbox.

N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the deal, appropriately enough, on his Twitter feed, his first Tweet in 19 months. It is unclear how much Twitter paid for the streaming rights, but Joe Lockhart, a league spokesman, said that other bidders had offered more money.

“The attraction wasn’t just revenue, it was a reach decision,” Lockhart said.

At the N.F.L.’s annual meeting last month, league executives told team owners and executives that the biggest opportunities for new revenue will come from digital and international businesses. Selling the streaming rights to live games appears to fill both of those categories.

The league experimented with live streaming last season when Yahoo paid about $20 million for the rights to show the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game played in London in October. In a sop to its broadcast partners and fans, the Bills-Jaguars game was still shown on television in the Buffalo and Jacksonville markets. The Thursday games shown on Twitter will continue to be broadcast nationally on television.

But streaming the game free to 185 countries will let fans in places where the N.F.L. does not have major broadcast partners to see a live matchup.

Both sides deemed the Yahoo trial a success, which prompted the league to expand its offerings. Facebook, Verizon and Yahoo were also considered to be candidates for the N.F.L.’s expanded streaming offerings.

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.

The fact that the N.F.L. is  moving even further into the streaming video world is no surprise, of course. It’s been apparent for some time now that this is the direction that media consumption is moving for a wide swath of the American public, and it’s only natural that the league would be interested in tapping into that market and that audience as a way of protecting its product well into the future. Additionally, ventures such as this help the league begin to prepare for a future where more and more Americans are preferring to cut the cord between them and their cable company and use streaming technologies as their exclusive means of entertainment. As that audience increases, you can expect the means by which the N.F.L. and other sports leagues attempts to reach them to increase. You can also expect that the role of streaming media in the broadcast of sports events will become an increasingly important issue as each of the sports leagues, as well as individual teams, renegotiates their media contracts as they become due. Last year’s deal with Yahoo, and this deal with Twitter, are just the beginning of a process that will change the way we all watch sports and other programming. Eventually, it’s likely to change in ways we can’t possibly imagine at this point.

There are few details provided about exactly how the Twitter livestream will work for N.F.L. games. Presumably, one will need to obtain a Twitter account in order to access the stream, otherwise the deal makes little sense from Twitter’s point of view. Given the fact that user growth has been an issue for investors in Twitter’s stock for several years now, though, it’s not conceivable that Twitter would acquire the rights to the games if there wasn’t some potential longer term side benefit for the company. Presumably, though, the company will find some way for these potential new users drawn by the N.F.L. games to get over the easy of use and other hurdles that have made user retention a problem for Twitter in the past. In any case, it will be an interesting opportunity for both the league and for Twitter, so lets see what they can make of it.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Pearce says:

    Not a big fan of Thursday night games, period. But I am glad to see the NFL further embrace streaming.

    Twitter is a weird choice, though. They’re not exactly who I think of when I think of “streaming video.”

  2. DrDaveT says:

    I’m clearly way too old. I honestly cannot fathom why anyone would choose Twitter as their preferred medium for experiencing a football game.

  3. Tillman says:

    @DrDaveT: I imagine it’s similar to live-tweeting primary debates where half the reason for it is getting analysis or jokes in semi-real time.

  4. bill says:

    @DrDaveT: i wonder if i could hook it up to my bigass tv outside?! my experience with streaming nfl games isn’t all that positive- maybe it’s my line but it’s just not like being at a bar!

  5. Tyrell says:

    Overexposure, overexposure.

  6. Mister Bluster says:

    @Tyrell:..Overexposure, overexposure.

    Likely why the United States Football League crashed and burned…or was it Citizen Trump?

    5 things to know about Donald Trump’s foray into doomed USFL
    1. Trump is widely blamed for the demise of the USFL in the mid ’80s.
    2…3…4…5…Do we need to know more?
    (It couldn’t have been the fault of The Gipper.)

  7. al-Ameda says:

    A couple of points:

    (1) To me, this has a lot to do with Twitter trying really hard to find a way to make money, this is a very likely a significant gamble on the part to Twitter to monetize their social media enviroment.

    (2) The NFL is money making juggernaut. They’re going to be paid good money to find out if streaming their games though social media is viable. No risk to the NFL, all the risk to Twitter.