Here’s Why Twitter Lost the NFL and Will Probably Lose Similar Deals in the Future

Apr 06, 2017

It may have come as a surprise last year when Twitter struck a deal with the NFL to live-stream Thursday night games. But it wasn't much of a surprise when the league chose to sign a similar deal with Amazon on Tuesday, instead of renewing its arrangement with Twitter.

Why? Because there are two things that leagues like the NFL are usually looking for when it comes to signing those kinds of streaming contracts: One is money, and the other is reach. And as much as it might like to, Twitter can't really compete with giants like Amazon or Facebook when it comes to either one of those factors, nor will it be able to any time soon.

The deal that the NFL signed last year with Twitter, for example, was worth $10 million. The deal that the league signed with Amazon on Tuesday—which was virtually identical in almost every way—was worth $50 million, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Twitter may have been able to justify spending $10 million on the digital rights to football games that are already available on traditional television (where NBC and CBS own the rights). But it would be hard for it to justify spending five times that much, especially since it is currently under financial pressure after missing its revenue targets.

Amazon , however, has oceans of cash available—not just because it has over $20 billion in cash on its books, but because its AWS hosted-computing platform for corporate customers spins off huge amounts of money every quarter. And the company has made it clear that it wants to expand in the area of streaming—not just sports but other kinds of traditional TV content as well.

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On top of that, the online retailing giant also has a much stronger strategic case to make for bidding on rights like the NFL, and that makes it easier to justify paying a higher price. That's because the streaming will be offered through its Amazon Prime subscription service, where it will be able to promote the rest of its retailing interests to a captive audience.

Twitter likely hoped that offering Thursday night football games would generate significant amounts of new sign-ups or boost engagement, or produce a bump in advertising revenue. But it doesn't seem to have accomplished any of those things.

There certainly haven't been any signs of a real increase in new users as a result of having the broadcasts available. Twitter's user growth in the U.S. remains stuck at zero, which is partly why investors are concerned. And the fact that the company missed its revenue estimates suggests the deal didn't really help the bottom line much either.

When it comes to reach, Twitter said the NFL games got about 300,000 simultaneous viewers per minute. That's by comparison to more than 15 million who watched the games on traditional television, which means that for the NFL, the Twitter deal was more or less a rounding error.

The Amazon streaming deal is only available to Prime members, and that is a smaller number than the 300 million users that Twitter claims to have. But those Amazon viewers are theoretically more inclined to buy things (since they have already shown a willingness to pay for Amazon's service), and that makes them a more desirable audience than random Twitter users.

And if Amazon wins over Twitter in this kind of contest, then Facebook is even more likely to come out on top, because the supply of cash it has to draw on is even more massive, and so is its reach. And it too has shown an interest in expanding its offerings of TV-style content such as live sports.

Twitter says it wants to do more NFL-style deals—and it points out that it aired more than 800 hours of live-streaming content in the first quarter of this year, including sports, news and entertainment. But that doesn't change the fact that in any bid that forces it to go up against Amazon or Facebook, the odds are stacked against it.

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