When the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers officially kick off the NFL season Thursday night, viewers will have more options than ever before about where and how to watch America’s most popular form of mass entertainment.
The biggest change to the league’s broadcast format for 2016 is the addition of Twitter, which will deliver live streaming of 10 Thursday Night Football games throughout the season. Fans can also watch these live-streamed games on linear TV (CBS and NBC will broadcast five games each) or on NFL Network.
Last year’s nascent Yahoo! streaming experiment of the Bills/Jaguars game in London earned 480 million minutes of streaming. The league is hoping to build on that impressive debut with a consistent streaming presence on Twitter.
The move is clearly aimed at attracting younger viewers from the cord-cutting generation. The partnership also gives consumers dual-screen options—the ability to watch the game and interact with fans on Twitter at the same time.
Twitter paid a reported $10 million for the rights, according to Bloomberg, bidding against companies such as Yahoo!, Amazon and Facebook. At the time of the deal, the NFL claimed Twitter wasn’t the highest bidder but was a good fit because it’s already built around live events and audience interactivity.
Of course, the NFL is still banking on its traditional distribution methods to bring in serious dollars. Industry analytical data from iSpot.TV, which measures TV advertising, shows the NFL rapidly increasing their TV ad spend in the final weeks leading up to week one. The league accounted for one-fifth of all sports industry advertising for the 30-day period ending August 29, in large part due to a significant advertising play during the Rio Olympics. The league spent an estimated $5 million in advertising during the Olympics on NBC.
Close to 90 percent of the league’s total TV ad budget over that time span was used for the Olympics or advertising during NFL preseason football. Rio delivered 85 million TV ad impressions for the NFL, according to iSpot.TV. The league’s highest daily ad spends in August reached close to $3 million near the middle and end of the month. The NFL’s “Football Is Family” ads are among those in heavy rotation on traditional TV as well as preseason football promos.
While there are still some daily fantasy ads, the unstoppable deluge of DraftKings and FanDuel advertisements leading up to last year’s NFL season has slowed. DraftKings spent about $16 million in TV advertising last August—a number that’s dropped considerably this year, according to iSpot.
“They’re not doing [expletive] compared to what they used to do,” one industry analyst bluntly put it.
NFL fans have reason to be excited about highlights in the early-season schedule.
Thursday Night Football is compelling, starting with the Broncos/Panthers Super Bowl rematch. Week two features Jets/Bills with Rex Ryan facing his old team. Week three pits Jimmy Garoppolo and the Patriots against J.J. Watt and the Texans.
Anticipation is high for the Patriots/Cardinals Sunday Night Football week one match-up, featuring Garoppolo’s debut in place of suspended Tom Brady against a highly-regarded Cardinals team. It also boasts an early-season Monday Night Football doubleheader with Pittsburgh/Washington at 7 p.m. on ESPN and the newly-returned-to-LA Rams taking on the 49ers at 10:15 p.m.
Speaking of MNF, this year represents a changing of the guard with veteran play-by-play man Sean McDonough taking over for Mike Tirico, who left ESPN for NBC. Tirico was assumed to be the incoming play-by-play guy for NBC’s new Thursday Night Football package, but reports indicate the NFL vetoed that plan. Tirico will still have a full plate, hosting Football Night in America and calling two NBC-produced games for NFL Network.
At CBS and Fox, there are no major changes to the play-by-play pairings themselves. CBS’s top seven announcing teams are unchanged from last year, with Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Tracy Wolfson still the network’s number one team. Brad Nessler, hired this spring to replace Verne Lundquist on SEC on CBS will call select NFL games. Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Erin Andrews will again hold the number one spot at Fox.
Fox will air this year’s Super Bowl in Houston as well as the NFC Championship Game and the NFL’s London game, Washington vs. Cincinnati on October 30.
And football fans don’t just have maximum options for how they watch the NFL, but also for how they trash talk, thanks to a new app from the NFL Player’s Association. The NFLPA is rolling out customized emojis called Any Given Emoji. The emojis, created in partnership with Whalerock Industries, the company behind the KIMOJI app, feature the likeness of 175 NFL stars plus a number of fantasy-themed hashtags and word bubbles.
Because if it worked for millions of celebrity-obsessed Kardashian fans, it’ll probably work for the football-salivating masses too.