CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Christmas Gift Guide
Culture

Twitter lines up with the NFL to stream Thursday Night Football

The social site is attempting to lure in pigskin fans with 10 games, its first foray into live sports streaming.

Tim Steadman/Icon SMI

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. reaches out for a tough catch over Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford.

Duncan Williams/Zuma Press/Corbis

It's the sports programming equivalent of a spectacular catch by Odell Beckham Jr.

Twitter has signed a deal with the National Football League to show 10 Thursday night games online during the upcoming season, making a splashy play for the attention of millions of NFL fans.

The games will be screened for free to a global audience on any device with Internet access. It's not exclusive, though. The games will also be available on NBC, CBS and the NFL Network, meaning viewers will have the option of watching games via traditional, cable or digital broadcast.

Still, the deal, announced Tuesday, marks a big first down for Twitter, the debut foray of the social media service into live sports streaming. Twitter has long hosted conversations around sporting events and has more recently introduced replays and curated "moments" following those contests.

Consider it a kind of online sports bar.

"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 league commissioner Roger Goodell, who was amped up enough about the deal that he tweeted for the first time since September 2014.

In August, the NFL and the social network signed a two-year deal to show in-game highlights, custom game recaps, breaking news, analysis and archival videos to fans. The relationship between the NFL and Twitter actually goes back to 2013. And it just so happens that Twitter CFO Anthony Noto was previously the chief financial officer for the NFL.

Terms of the deal were not announced. A Twitter spokesman said the company has nothing to reveal yet on how exactly the games will work within the service.

Now Playing: Watch this: Live sports games now streaming on social networks
2:38

Verizon still has the mobile rights to stream all NFL games, a four-year, $1 billion deal that expires after the 2016 season. Last October, Yahoo did a one-off global live stream of a game between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars, reportedly paying close to $20 million for the privilege.

Under the NFL deal, Twitter will also be the home of in-game highlights and pregame talk via Periscope live broadcasts. All of the Thursday Night Football content will be available to registered and nonregistered Twitter users, which the social network tallies at 800 million.

For Twitter, which has been struggling for months to prove its potential for continued growth, streaming Thursday Night Football may well help attract new users and engage new audiences, including those outside the US who do not already have easy access to games. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he also hopes this will continue to cement the loyalty of NFL viewers by "transforming the fan experience."

Twitter needed to make "a bold move," given the increasingly competitive social media landscape, said Craig Howe, CEO of Rebel Ventures, which has provided the digital presence for teams including the San Francisco 49ers, the Boston Red Sox, Real Madrid and Liverpool FC. But he has some concerns.

"As a digital sports fan," Howe said, "I just hope that you still get a fantastic experience across all of the social networks and be able to follow as much out of Facebook and Snapchat, albeit in different ways."

The Twitter deal is somewhat of a surprise, said James Cakmak, an analyst with Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co. Twitter reportedly outbid Yahoo, Amazon and Verizon, while Facebook is said to have dropped out of the bidding.

Cakmak said the deal could help the social network expand its brand and likely gain users, bring more exposure to its Periscope app and strengthen its live programming. But Twitter can't do an end zone dance just yet.

"Winning the deal is one thing," he said. "Executing to optimize the product experience is another."

Or as Beckham Jr. might say, it's all about the yards after the catch.