The NFL’s Twitter Gamble

Earlier today, I published a post titled “Twitter’s NFL Gamble“. The post illustrates perfectly the danger of jumping on breaking news too quickly, in that a major piece of information emerged after I hit “Publish” on the post, which totally changed the dynamic of the story. So here I am with a second post in the same day on the same topic, from quite a different perspective. A good deal of the material in the initial piece still holds, but the key point from the title no longer makes as much sense.

The key piece of information was reported by Recode, and concerns two important elements – the price Twitter paid, and the nature of the content it will carry, specifically as it relates to ads. Here are the two key paragraphs from that piece:

“While the NFL and Twitter haven’t disclosed the price for the package, people familiar with the bidding said Twitter paid less than $10 million for the entire 10-game package, while rival bids topped $15 million. Those numbers are a fraction of the $450 million CBS and NBC collectively paid for the rights to broadcast the Thursday games. (A note from Twitter’s Investor Relations Twitter account notes that the company had already baked the cost of the deal into their 2016 guidance.)

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.”

With this as context, it becomes clear that this is far less of a gamble for Twitter than I originally understood, and actually far more of a gamble for the NFL. Splitting the broadcast and digital rights for the Thursday night games was a great innovation, and one I actually wrote up pretty positively in a post for Techpinions. But it now appears that the NFL has chosen not to be as disruptive as it might have been. Rather than license these rights to a new online video player, with all the advertising rights packaged in, the NFL has chosen to forego a big new revenue opportunity from the digital world and instead hand the ad revenue opportunity mostly to CBS and NBC, while Twitter merely gets the benefit of increased traffic from broadcasting games almost entirely packaged up by others.

That represents a big gamble on the NFL’s part, that it’s better off giving most of the rights to traditional players rather than opening up a new opportunity with a major video player from the online world. The Recode reporting certainly suggests that the NFL even chose to go with Twitter despite the fact that its offer was lower than others. The NFL may appear to be doing the opposite of gambling here, but the risk is that it’s setting up these online rights as something much less than what they could be. Over the next few years, these online rights could be really lucrative, and this Thursday night package was a great way to really test that market, but the NFL is putting all its eggs in the broadcast basket instead.