Twitter planted its flag in the world of live sports streaming with a $10-million deal with the NFL earlier this year, providing a digital platform for select Thursday Night Football games.
But it wasn’t until Wimbledon this summer that fans saw what that streaming experience will look like: a video window planted above, or to the side, of tweets discussing the event in real-time.
It was a beta test, but it showed promise. So much promise that MLB Advanced Media is bringing baseball and NHL games to the platform, as was announced on Monday.
“It gives us a chance to take advantage of the platform in ways we haven’t been able to do so in the past,” Stephen McArdle, NHL executive vice president of digital media and strategic planning, told Yahoo Sports.
“[Wimbledon] was a very interesting execution. You consume the content in real time, and comment on it in real time, on the same platform.”
As Ken Fang notes, Twitter is growing as a sports content provider by leaps and bounds:
This adds to previously signed deals with the NFL for Thursday Night Football, the Pac-12 for various digital events, Campus Insiders for Mountain West, Patriot League and West Coast Conference Games, the NBA for two shows and with CBS and Bloomberg to stream news events.
The NHL has 4.91 million followers on Twitter, which (true to form) is dwarfed by the social imprint that the NBA (22.5 million) and NFL (19.5 million) have. What the NHL does have, however, are fans that “tend to be the best educated, most affluent, the most tech savvy and the most avid,” according to commissioner Gary Bettman.
Twitter is the place where many of them congregate to discuss the game, so the NHL is bringing the games to them, rather than trying to lure them to, say, NHL.com to comment on another platform.
“We understand the power of Twitter as a platform for conversation about the NHL in real time, both on the ice and off the ice,” said McArdle. “Adding a live component to that real-time conversation is a fantastic opportunity.”
Live chats during live steams are nothing new. It started on international streaming sites (that you may or may not have used to illegally stream events, you little thieves). But those chats are usually vulgar, terse gibberish.
YouTube has offered live-commenting on events it streams; and while Twitter comments can rival YouTube for terse vulgarity, they’re typically more conversational, given the platform. It’s a better experience.
But where McArdle noticed a lot of real-time commenting during a real-time streaming was on Esports sites, as gamers watch gamers and offer running comments.
“I was looking at some Esports platforms. I found the speed with which the conversation was happening just to be amazing. I had a difficult time keeping up with how rapid fire the conversation was, and it’ll be interesting to see how rapid fire the conversation is [on Twitter],” he said.
But more than the speed of the conversation is who is conversing on those Esports sites: Younger demographics, who are being conditioned to consume any event – League of Legends to the National Hockey League – as a social event rather than a singular one.
One only needs to look at the NHL television situation in Canada to witness the struggle that is converting millennials into hockey viewership.
“This is a large and growing generation that’s consuming content socially,” said McArdle. “It’s important to understand those consumption habits, not only for us but for all sports.”
This initial deal between MLBAM, the NHL and Twitter is a baby step. The games will be once-per-week and only out-of-market games. (“Twitter’s ability to geo-target these games was critically important,” said McArdle.) Users don’t have to be logged in to see the games. The games are only going to be available to U.S. fans – the NHL is blessed with international viewership, but with it comes with rights deals that are almost impossible to untangle for a project like this.
But media is changing. Rights fees are changing with it. The moment the NFL cast its lot with a social media platform was the moment that all gained clarity. So along with offering an interesting game-night experience to its Twitter-savvy fans, the NHL has an eye on how to attracted new generations of fans that want to consume sports that way, and an eye on where fans might consume their games in a cord-cutting world.
“We’re for allowing hockey fans to act like hockey fans, providing them content from around the league. This is another step in the process,” said McArdle.
“Watch, communicate, listen, observe … all on the same platform. It’s a great opportunity.”