Why the NFL went to Twitter instead of Facebook

Twitter's surprising deal to stream NFL games may have been the result of a dispute between the sports league and the world's largest social network — Facebook.

Several sources with knowledge of the NFL's thinking said the league's decision to partner with Twitter to stream 10 games next season may have been due to arguments with Facebook over how much its games are worth.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the NFL felt that Facebook undervalued content rights and has a poor monetization model. The sources added that while Facebook does have a large audience and Facebook Live's platform is promising, its ability to get revenue from livestreaming — as well as the product's capability — is still evolving, whereas Twitter's product is ready for primetime. 

One digital media strategist for sports leagues agreed, saying it was a widespread sports-world sentiment that Facebook video ad revenue was "a little underwhelming from what was expected."

However, a source with knowledge of Facebook's thinking said the social network was the one to back out of the NFL's offer, not the other way around. The main point of contention was over the value of the nonexclusive livestreamed games, which are also widely available on TV. Amazon also backed out of the deal, leaving Twitter as one of the the last players standing, the source added. A spokesman for the NFL strongly disputed this claim.

NFL games no 'silver bullet' for Twitter, pro says

Facebook has been heavily pushing its livestreaming capabilities and angling for dominance in online video. So, it came to a surprise to many that Twitter was able to secure a deal with the NFL to livestream games. Re/code pegged the deal at less than $10 million.

Hans Schroeder, senior vice president of media strategy, business development and sales for the NFL, said the deal was more about the unique opportunity to build a new audience for "Thursday Night Football," especially among mobile users. 

Schroder said the NFL opted to go with Twitter, which "wasn't the highest bidder," because it has a unique way to drive engagement. As for ad revenue, the NFL will allow some of its national advertisers to advertise on its Twitter livestream, and Twitter will directly handle the remnant ad space.

"There's really a handful of folks with the size and scale that Twitter brings," he said. 

Andre Roberts of the Washington Redskins attempts to catch a pass against Trevin Wade of the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 24, 2015, in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Twitter to stream Thursday night NFL games in 2016 season

The NFL-Twitter streaming deal is interesting because it allows mobile audiences to access NFL games anywhere, on a platform that is highly primed for online chatter. As brands scramble to find opportunities to ensure people see their ads, sports is one of the few programming options that is overwhelmingly watched live. It also reaches a highly coveted and hard-to-reach advertising demographic, millennial males.  

On the other hand, "Thursday Night Football" games will not be original or exclusive to Twitter. However, per terms of the deal, Twitter will also get in-game highlights and pregame broadcasts from players and teams via Periscope, Twitter's livestreaming platform. 

Facebook has also been testing several ad models in order to give media companies video revenue. In late December 2014, the NFL became the first partner to test out after the video or "post-roll" ads with Verizon. Fox Sports also tested out the option with advertiser Nationwide. Sources said Facebook is now testing suggested video, and considering considering placing ads between each clip.

Facebook declined to comment; Amazon did not respond to requests for comment; A spokesperson for Twitter deferred to the NFL.