Twitter may score big with football digital rights

April 5, 2016

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

Twitter may finally be gaining some ground. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey’s social-media company has won the rights to stream National Football League games on 10 Thursday nights for roughly $10 million, according to technology site Re/code. That’s about the price of a one-minute Super Bowl commercial. After fumbling with stalled growth in the number of users, Twitter may have found a cheap way to stay on the field with rivals like Facebook.

The price for permission to show live sporting events – especially NFL games – is skyrocketing. CBS and NBC Universal paid $450 million in total to air Thursday-night football contests over the next two seasons. Yahoo shelled out some $20 million to live-stream a match between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars last October in London. Twitter’s $10 million fee may look like a bargain in comparison.

The deal has some drawbacks, though. It doesn’t convey exclusive digital rights, with CBS and NBC also allowed to stream games live. What’s more, the networks will sell and keep the revenue from most of the digital advertisements, leaving little for Twitter, according to Re/code. And the NFL will show the same contests on cable television.

Twitter and its new boss are, however, scrapping for ways to get ahead. In the fourth quarter of 2015, the company reported 320 million active monthly members, the same number as for the previous quarter. Facebook, meanwhile, claims to have about 1.6 billion – and rising. Twitter’s lagging performance is reflected in its share price, which is down more than 65 percent over the past year.

NFL football is by far the most popular sport in America, attracting tens of millions of TV viewers for each game. Winning even a small slice of that audience could give user numbers a healthy boost – and Twitter a much needed score.

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