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Twitter just won rights to stream Thursday night NFL games

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

The NFL has found a surprising venue for its Thursday night football games: Twitter.

The NFL was particularly interested in getting a tech company for the streaming rights to Thursday Night Football, sending requests for proposals to Google, Yahoo, Apple, and Amazon, according to a December report from Sports Business News. The rights only apply to computers, not to mobile devices.

Streaming football is a big deal. Live sporting events are one of the things that keep people tethered to their cable packages, even as services like Hulu and Netflix make it easier to watch plenty of television online. And while it's been possible to stream NFL games if you're already a cable subscriber, making the games more broadly available is a big shift.

It's not clear how Twitter will stream the games in its interface, but the tech company has good reason for wanting to get in on the NFL's deal: Live events are where Twitter shines.

If you're a football fan and Twitter user, you're probably tweeting during the game already. (And if you're not a fan, you're resigned to your Sunday evening Twitter timeline being taken over by game updates and the 140-character version of incoherent yelling at a sports bar.) Going from watching the game with one eye on Twitter to watching the game itself on Twitter isn't much of a leap.

And sports could be a good entry point to Twitter for non-users as Twitter struggles to attract more of them. You don't need to understand the difference between a retweet and a quoted tweet in order to follow commentary on a football game.

Go deeper:

  • Wired wrote about why Facebook would want Thursday Night Football, and what it might look like on Facebook's platform, last week. Even though Facebook didn't win, a lot of the conclusions apply to Twitter as well.
  • "It is undoubtedly the future of football broadcasting, and it’s getting here very, very quickly," Deadspin wrote when the NFL announced it was seeking digital partners.
  • The amount Twitter paid for the rights isn't public yet, but getting new users is a make-or-break issue for the company: Wall Street is not happy that growth is flattening out, Vox's Timothy Lee wrote in February.

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