NHL makes foray into Twitter streaming
This past summer, the NHL was one of the sports leagues to partner with Twitter to bring live content to fans. As part of their agreement, Twitter will stream ten out-of-market NHL games live from the NHL Twitter account. This will be the NHL’s first major foray into live streaming on social media.
When the NFL became the first league to parter with Twitter last April, people were intrigued. It seemed to be an effort to boost Thursday Night Football viewership nationally, which has always struggled compared to other NFL games. This foray had mixed reviews. The viewership was smaller than expected, hovering between 2.5 and 3 million on average. But it did allow advertisers a better way to reach cord-cutting millennials.
In the months after the announcement of the NFL deal, Twitter announced streaming deals with the NBA, Wimbledon, MLB, NHL, Campus Insiders, and 120 Sports. Some of these partnerships are to stream games, while others are to stream shows about the leagues. Free social media streaming seems to be the future of sports broadcasting.
For the NHL, this partnership has a similar purpose to the NFL’s, but with a vastly different league profile. The NFL is an international brand with high average viewership. They simply wished to increase Thursday Night Football viewership. For the NHL, they’re hoping to increase viewership, period.
The NHL has traditionally been a very regional sport, which has resulted in much lower national viewership than the other four major sports. Focused in Canada, the Midwest, and the East Coast, the NHL doesn’t come close to the national presence of any of the other three leagues, let alone the NFL.
That’s why the details of this agreement are so interesting. Twitter will be streaming ten NHL games live, but they’ll only be streamed out of market and in the United States. The United States part makes sense. There’s no use wasting resources in Canada when everyone already watches hockey.
But why only stream out of market? The NHL undoubtably has strong holds in the United States, but there are also many teams that could use a boost in local markets. Why block people in these markets from watching a game they stumbled upon that they otherwise might not have watched?
If someone in North Carolina is scrolling through Twitter and sees Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes star, put a goal in top shelf against the Rangers, they might stop to watch. If someone in California sees it? The chances are undoubtably lower.
— Twitter Sports (@TwitterSports) January 31, 2017
On Thursday, the NHL will stream it’s second game on Twitter. The slowly-declining Montreal Canadiens will face the truly awful Arizona Coyotes—an east-west matchup that promises to be boring and uneventful. And it’s hardly the only one of its kind.
When the NFL broadcasted Thursday Night Football, there was a specific draw. They’ve always marketed Thursday Night Football as something separate—the almost-weekend, signaling that more football would come soon. This year, they added Color Rush uniforms, an unexpectedly cool addition to the game.
But what is the NHL bringing? With the exception of a few, these games are mediocre. And there isn’t really an excuse. The schedule of games was released on January 31st, the day of the first streamed game. Why not pick better games? There are division rivalry games, but only one—Rangers vs. Hurricanes—looks particularly promising
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t positive aspects of this deal. Although many of the games scheduled to be streamed don’t inspire excitement, some could be good. Most notably, two of the games feature the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After purposely driving the team into the ground last season, Toronto is in the middle of the rebuild they promised fans. With three exciting rookies, a promising defense and a solid goalie, the Leafs have been genuinely fun to watch. But in a classic NHL move, no Leafs games were scheduled for national broadcast this year.
Including the Leafs in these games is a sign that the NHL is actually capable of making positive marketing decisions. Led by a 19-year-old American from Phoenix, Arizona, this year’s Leafs are the perfect entry point for new hockey fans. Streaming these games on Twitter has the possibility to draw people into hockey that would never see these games otherwise.
The existence of these games is a good sign. This is a time when NHL GameCenter Live and other viewing options are too expensive for most fans. It may not be the best case scenario, but streaming games on Twitter will get more hockey to more fans in an era when the NHL has seen an undeniable growth in fanbase. As critical as I am, I want to see the NHL succeed. And I’m glad to see that they’re trying.
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