Media Rights, Video, Baseball, Football, Soccer, North America, Europe

Twitter’s Theo Luke on its approach to sports content: ‘There’s no secret sauce’

Twitter’s EMEA sports partnerships director discusses the social media giant’s NFL deal, OTT competition and future strategy.

by Guest Contributor
Twitter’s Theo Luke on its approach to sports content: ‘There’s no secret sauce’

Twitter was arguably the first of the big social media platforms to enter the sports rights market when it signed a deal with the National Football League (NFL) for TNF rights back in 2016 and it continues to be active in the space.

This year alone it has signed streaming contracts with Major League Baseball (MLB) and Major League Soccer (MLS), as well as adding to its esports portfolio by doing a content deal with Overwatch League (OWL).

Below Twitter’s EMEA sports partnerships director, Theo Luke, answers questions from Ampere's Richard Broughton on the platform's approach to sports video.

What is Twitter’s approach to sports content — either via partnerships or through direct rights acquisition?

Our philosophy is always to work in partnership with federations, leagues and broadcasters to ensure that we're providing the best real time content from the sports that matter to you. Even when we've been involved in acquiring rights such as when we streamed Thursday Night Football everything came via the @NFL handle. They're a much more authentic voice to fans than Twitter and we want to celebrate the great work they do.

Twitter entered the major sports property rights market with a deal for NFL Thursday Night Football streaming rights back in 2016

What have you found works particularly well on the platform from a sports perspective?

We're not the biggest social network but pound for pound we can throw as many punches as anyone in the real-time space. People come to Twitter to find out what's happening now and whether you're a Doncaster Rovers or a Baltimore Ravens fan we're the first place you're going to find out the latest news about your team. Real time video highlights are our sweet spot and central to the success of our Instream Sponsorship product.

How do you assess which sports to focus on in each market—is that based on what Twitter users are already talking about, or do you look for opportunities in major events that are perhaps under-represented on Twitter?

There's no secret sauce! We focus on the sports that generate high levels of conversation on the platform in each territory and then try and negotiate what's still a fairly fragmented and complicated rights market to get hold of the clips. Ultimately, we're matchmaking whatever rights are available with sponsors keen to connect with sports fans.

There have been a great number of major moves into the sports sector from digital players including DAZN, Eleven Sports, Amazon and others. How does this affect Twitter’s strategy?

If you zoom out, all of these great services are about using the web to connect sports fans directly with the content they want when they want it. I don't think there's any doubt that the next generation of sports fan expects to be able watch sports on demand. The challenge is the economics. How do the new OTT services or Twitter offer as much value to sports rights holders as the proven pay TV model? Is it PPV? Subscription? Micropayments? And without that value creation how do any of the platforms underwrite the huge costs involved in picking up premium sports rights. I suspect the answer is closer collaboration between existing incumbents and services like Twitter.

What sort of engagement has Twitter received around the sports events it has live-streamed?

Our NFL TNF simulcast generated 2.3 million viewers with a peak of 243,000 concurrent viewers and encouragingly, the average user spent 22 minutes watching. We see similar success stories with the live streams we've done in the UK around Transfer Deadline Day with Sky Sports. Twitter is an obvious place for football fans to exchange gossip and banter about the players they want to see at their clubs and marrying that conversation in a curated timeline with live Sky Sports News coverage was a perfect combination.

How does sport fit in with the wider Twitter strategy—does it work as part of the broader drive to encourage regular engagement from existing users?

I don't think people are isolated sports fans. We all have favourite TV shows or celebrities. We all read the news. Sport is a massive part of people's lives but we're ultimately interested in whatever our users tell us they're interested in. As long as we start with them and offer them content from across their interest spectrum then our business will continue to thrive.

This interview was first posted on Ampere is a media partner of the SportsPro OTT Summit, which is taking place at Meliá Castilla in madrid from 28th to 29th November, more information here.