When Twitter was launched in 2006, its founders surely never imagined that the platform would end up broadcasting live sport.
However, set up as a social media service, Twitter, in recent years, has made huge moves in the sports industry, signing deals to show live events including tennis from Wimbledon, golf from the PGA Tour and football from the MLS.
On the surface, all of their partnerships have worked extremely well, which has led many to believe that we are now in the midst of a move away from traditional broadcasting to social media platforms in terms of watching sport. But, is it really true?
Shift from television
“It’s possible that there has been a shift from traditional broadcasting in the sense of watching sport on a television,” says Elizabeth Stranges, sports partnerships manager at Twitter UK. “But fans are still consuming sport via broadcaster’s digital channels, as well as on social media, where available.
“Sport remains to be one of the few viewing experiences that thrives in its real-time nature and that unique format lends itself well to continued support from fans while the event is live, regardless of the channel it is streamed or broadcast on.”
As television ratings for live sport decline, one thing, for sure, is that sporting authorities are beginning to anticipate the potential weight digital outlets could hold in the commercial future of their sports.
And, with 319 million monthly users, many of whom are sports fans, and a platform which makes it easy to network with others, it’s not hard to see why Twitter is currently being preferred as sport’s primary digital broadcasting network.
“I think sporting authorities have recognised that Twitter is the perfect companion to their content,” says Stranges. “The largest topic of conversation on Twitter in the UK in 2016 was sport; bear in mind this was also the year of Brexit and Trump’s election.
“So, it’s hard to ignore that Twitter provides them with one of the best ways to reach their fans, grow their audience and join the conversation around their brands.”
World Cup coverage
Indeed, earlier this year, in yet another huge coup, the digital media company announced that it has signed a partnership with Fox Sports to broadcast the sports channel’s coverage of the World Cup. Undoubtedly, it sounds good, but how will it work?
“We’re very excited about the partnerships with Fox Sports,” says Stranges. “They’ll produce a daily 30-minute show on all 27 match days during the tournament, to be live-streamed exclusively on Twitter and available to logged-in and logged-out US users via @FOXSports and @FOXSoccer.
“Rachel Bonnetta will host from Moscow’s Red Square, and the show will include match previews, recaps, Twitter reactions and original segments produced by Fox Sports’ team in Moscow.
“Fox Sports will also provide “near-live video highlights” from every match to Twitter, including every goal scored, as well as videos from question-and-answer sessions with talent, interviews with players and coaches and press conferences.
“Looking at the upcoming World Cup as a topical benchmark, back in 2014, there were an incredible 672 million Tweets sent across the month-long tournament.
“And in fact, back in November we shared that there were already 50K Tweets sent purely about the draw alone at the back end of 2017. So, the momentum on Twitter is continuing.”
Indeed, the momentum is certainly in Twitter’s favour at the moment considering it has also recently signed a three-year deal with Major League Soccer to broadcast live matches, highlights and features.
However, at the same time, with the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon, who already own the UK broadcasting rights to ATP tennis from 2019, all looking to expand their own sports broadcasting portfolio, Twitter could be forgiven for feeling anxious about the rising competition from other digital media outlets.
“It has been, and will continue to be, interesting to watch how various platforms will evolve in this space,” says Stranges. “But I think Twitter has a unique positioning when it comes to sport.
“People come to Twitter to see and talk about What’s Happening and rarely is that more relevant than with live sporting events given the real time nature of the conversation.”
The broadcasting deals Twitter have been able to pull off and successfully implement within their platform over the last two to three years should send a shiver down the spines of the big television broadcasters as it suggests that TV may no longer be king in terms of watching sport.
Clearly, the ability to view sport and interact with others at the same time online is something which appeals to the younger generations and Twitter have shrewdly used that to their advantage.
Whether, Twitter will seek to be the host broadcaster of sporting events down the line remains to be seen, however, it’s evident that sport has now become hugely significant to the brand and its future.
“Sport partnerships are very important to Twitter,” concludes Stranges. “And we’re excited to continue working with our partners on new and innovative initiatives in the coming years.”
Feature image courtesy of Digital Sport