NFL, Twitter Expand Social Media Distribution

The National Football League (NFL) and Twitter have announced a multiyear partnership extension, which will include expanded engagement formats and a full-season commitment to produce exclusive content on Twitter Spaces, Twitter’s new live-audio feature. Twitter will also continue to be a home for the games’ biggest moments — all the touchdowns, leaping catches, incredible runs, and celebrations after they happen, from season Kickoff to Super Bowl.

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The NFL is the first sports league to partner with Twitter to offer sponsored Twitter Spaces, giving both brands and fans new opportunities to connect and engage with live NFL audio. The NFL’s Twitter Spaces will be available throughout the season, as well as in conjunction with NFL tentpole events including Kickoff, Super Bowl, the NFL Draft and more. The Spaces will include participation from current NFL players and other NFL talent to discuss season matchups and insights.

The partnership will continue to engage fans each week of the season through:

  • New Highlight Offerings — Curated videos featuring recaps of the best touchdowns, highlights and Tweets each week of the season with first-of-its-kind opportunities for brands.
  • Expanded NFL Twitter Votes — Fans will be invited to vote each week on the hottest topics and takes burning through the NFL Twittersphere in an expanded set of Twitter Polls.
  • Providing Fans the Best Moments From Every Game — The NFL and its Clubs will bring the best moments from every game to the #NFLTwitter community through highlights, and on-field coverage and Twitter Moments.

 

“The commitment to Twitter Spaces represents another innovative step forward in the longstanding partnership between the NFL and Twitter,” Blake Stuchin, VP of digital media business development for the NFL, said in a statement.

Since announcing their first partnership agreement in 2013, the NFL has developed live programming and distributed on-demand content that takes advantage of Twitter’s unique features to appeal to its highly engaged audience.

Amazon Prime Video Bumps Up Exclusive ‘Thursday Night Football’ Access

Amazon Prime Video is moving up by one year its exclusive rights to “Thursday Night Football.” The e-commerce behemoth/streamer, beginning in the 2022-23 season will have exclusive access to NFL games, with local broadcasts available as well in the teams’ home markets.

Fox Sports, which had previously held exclusive broadcast rights through 2023, agreed to give up the 2022-23 season to Amazon in an amended agreement that reportedly will cost the streamer more than $1 billion in additional carriage fees. Amazon has exclusive streaming rights to 15 “TNF” games per season through 2032. Amazon first began streaming “TNF” games in 2017 when CBS had broadcast rights. Fox took over broadcast rights in 2018.

“We look forward to bringing ‘Thursday Night Football’ exclusively to Prime members in 2022, a year earlier than previously announced,” Marie Donoghue, VP of global sports video at Amazon, said in a statement. “This expedited deal is an immediate differentiator for us as a service, as it gives Prime members exclusive access to the most popular sport in the United States.”

Amazon Eyeing Black Friday NFL Game

On the heels of Amazon’s reported $1.2 billion annual deal with the National Football League for exclusive rights to all 15 “Thursday Night Football,” games for 11 years beginning in 2023, comes news the e-commerce behemoth is looking to possibly add a game on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

That speculation comes from Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and member of the NFL management committee that secured a record $113 billion in collective TV/media contract fees from Fox, Disney, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and Amazon.

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Speaking to “The Peter King Podcast” on NBC Sports’ “Pro Football Talk,” Kraft said Amazon was looking for a perk since it is spending double what Fox paid for the previous rights, and there is no “Thursday Night Football” on Thanksgiving. That’s because the NFL has a long tradition (since 1934) showcasing the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions, and other teams, on the last Thursday in November.

“Amazon [will] dedicate tremendous resources to make this work for them and for us,” Kraft said. “Who knows, maybe we’ll play a game on Black Friday, their biggest shopping day of the year?”

The NFL live-streamed its first game on Oct. 25, 2015, on Yahoo Sports from London featuring the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since then, over-the-top video has exploded while the traditional linear TV bundle has declined.

“Today, you are able to watch an original film that won an Oscar on the same site that you buy your toothpaste,” added Brian Rolapp, chief media and business officer with the NFL.

While Amazon has made no official announcement, the NFL has been reluctant to play on Friday due to the league’s 60-year antitrust exemption via the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 negotiating media contracts. The NFL, and other sports leagues, over the years have survived legislative attempts to rescind those antitrust exemptions.

Last year, for the first time in 10 years, the NFL scheduled a game on Friday, Dec. 25 between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints.

 

Disney, NFL and ESPN Reach Long-Term Agreement

The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and the National Football League have reached a long-term agreement that will result in ABC/ESPN joining the Super Bowl rotation, having additional playoff action, exclusive national ESPN+ matchups over the course of the agreement, and more regular-season contests including “Monday Night Football.”

The deal will also result in enhanced game quality and new schedule flexibility, according to a Disney press release.

The 10-year agreement begins with the 2023 season.

“This landmark agreement guarantees that ESPN’s passionate fan base will continue to have access to the best the NFL has to offer,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in a statement. “Bringing all the considerable and unique capabilities of The Walt Disney Company and ESPN to the table opens up so many opportunities across our industry-leading direct-to-consumer, broadcast, cable, linear, social and digital outlets. Special thanks to Roger Goodell and the NFL owners for continuing to embrace new ways to appeal to their fans, especially through increasingly important platforms like ESPN+.”

“When ESPN and the NFL work best together, the results are transformational for sports fans and the industry,” Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and sports content, said in a statement. “Some of the most remarkable collaborative examples have occurred in the past 12 months and have demonstrated the extraordinary range of The Walt Disney Company that is fundamental to this agreement. There are so many exciting new components, including Super Bowls and added playoff games, new end-of-season games with playoff implications, exclusive streaming games on ESPN+, scheduling flexibility and enhancements, and much more. It’s a wide-ranging agreement unlike any we’ve reached with the NFL, and we couldn’t be more energized about what the future holds.”

“We are thrilled to extend and expand our partnership with Disney far into the future, as ESPN will continue to host cable’s most-watched series, ‘Monday Night Football,’ and ABC is returning as a Super Bowl broadcaster,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “We look forward to working with Disney as they use new platforms, including ESPN+, in innovative ways to reach even more NFL fans.”

ABC/ESPN will carry two Super Bowls (2026, 2030 seasons) as part of a rotation between the NFL’s media partners, marking the first time that an ESPN-NFL agreement includes such Super Bowl rights, according to the press release. ABC last televised the Super Bowl in February 2006 (2005 NFL season). Also, ESPN will present more playoff action, adding an annual divisional round game to its schedule, which will continue to include a wild-card matchup.

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ESPN’s increased regular-season package will include one annual exclusive national game on ESPN+. The game will take place internationally and will be aired live in the Sunday morning Eastern time zone window. Additionally, this agreement allows ESPN the opportunity to simulcast all ESPN/ABC game telecasts on ESPN+.

Also included is rights for the return of ESPN+ highlights show “NFL PrimeTime” each week on the streaming platform.

ESPN will increase its regular-season schedule by 35% — six more games per year (from 17 to 23). It will include an ESPN game on Monday nights (including three weeks with a separate game on ABC), a Saturday doubleheader the season’s final week and the Sunday morning game on ESPN+.

The added two Saturday games will take place during the final week of the regular season and will showcase matchups with playoff implications. Both of those games will be simulcast on ABC and ESPN.

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The agreement includes new elements that will enhance the caliber of the “Monday Night Football” slate, according to the press release. First, the schedule will be more flexible than in years past with the ability for the NFL to swap “a more meaningful” game into the “Monday Night Football” slot with 12 days’ notice from Week 12 on, according to the press release. Additionally, top teams will appear more often, as a result of the agreement which provides ESPN the ability to showcase any four teams at least twice, “leading to even more compelling games,” according to Disney.

With comprehensive NFL highlights rights, ESPN will continue to offer and/or develop NFL-branded programming, pre- and post-game shows, news, analysis and highlights studio shows, storytelling vehicles, digital and social content and more. The deal also includes data rights (e.g. – NFL’s Next Gen stats), according to Disney.

In addition, ESPN has once again secured rights to the annual Pro Bowl. Other key elements include opportunities for alternate telecasts, extending and expanding ESPN’s international rights (including areas in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Oceania, India), ESPN Deportes and more.

ESPN has also obtained rights to NFL Drafts, an event that has been an ESPN fixture since 1980, as part of the agreement.

The 2021 season will be the last in ESPN’s current arrangement with the NFL. ESPN and the NFL have reached a bridge agreement for 2022 — the year between when the previous agreement expires and the new 10-year extension begins. For both the 2021 and 2022 seasons, all the foundational components from the agreement expiring in 2021 will be included (e.g. – weekly “Monday Night Football” games), in addition to select elements from the new 10-year agreement. For example, in 2021, ESPN will be adding the two Saturday games with playoff implications on the last weekend of the regular season. For the 2022 bridge year, ESPN will showcase the two Saturday games with playoff implications on the last weekend of the season, a Sunday morning ESPN+ game and one ABC “Monday Night Football” broadcast on a week there is also an ESPN Monday Night Football telecast.

The Week the Pay-TV Bundle Died

NEWS ANALYSIS — Fox Corp. and Disney-owned ESPN March 18 became the latest media companies to ink 11-year carriage agreements through 2033 with the National Football League that include landmark direct-to-consumer distribution via ad-supported VOD platform Tubi and SVOD service ESPN+, respectively.

When combined with the NFL’s other new contracts with ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, Fox Corp., Amazon and Disney, the deals are reportedly worth a staggering $113 billion to the world’s biggest-revenue sports league. Despite slumping ratings and empty stadiums, live sports remains one of the most coveted prizes in the television business.

Why? The pay-TV market ended 2020 on record as the one of the worst for churn, or subscribers canceling the cable bundle — losing 1.4 million combined subs in Q4 alone. Cable operator WideOpenWest in February revealed it would lose 66% of its sub base in the next three years. Household subscriber penetration now stands at 60% — the lowest level since 1994.

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“The media industry just suffered from the worst year ever for cord cutting,” analyst firm MoffetNathanson wrote in a note.

To stanch the bleeding, media companies, whose assets include pay-TV, now covet over-the-top access to the NFL in order to gain a stronger digital foothold. And the NFL was willing to oblige — for a price.

ESPN+, which ended Disney’s most-recent fiscal period with 12 million subscribers, for the first time will stream a Saturday doubleheader during the season’s final weekend and one Sunday morning game.

“There are so many exciting new components, including Super Bowls and added playoff games, new end-of-season games with playoff implications, exclusive streaming games on ESPN+, scheduling flexibility and enhancements,”  Jimmy Pitaro, content chairman at ESPN, said in a statement. “It’s a wide-ranging agreement unlike any we’ve reached [previously] with the NFL.”

Fox will create an “NFL experience” on Tubi consisting of fee-based premiere VOD as well as condensed free ad-supported games throughout the NFL season.

“We are pleased to broaden our deal to include new digital rights that provide us with the flexibility to deliver NFL to customers in expanded and innovative ways,” Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch said. “This long-term agreement ensures that we will continue to deliver the best in football coverage to our viewers while also strengthening and providing optionality to our business.”

The “optionality” to deliver live football to consumers via subscription streaming video and AVOD is relatively new in the U.S., and underscores the changing dynamics surrounding content distribution in the digital age.

“People want to watch it whenever it is convenient right now,” David Mowrey, VP of product management with Clearlap, which conducted a 2015 consumer survey gauging consumer interest paying for live sports streaming access, told CNET. “There’s still a lot of opportunity to create better experiences particularly around streaming sports.”

Industry data contends there was a peak 105 million pay-TV households in 2010, a tally that has been plummeting ever since. Despite the pandemic putting increased eyeballs in front of the television, the pay-TV market declined to less than 83 million households in 2020 — with new estimates dropping that number by another 10 million in two years.

As a result, live sports delivered on cable, satellite and telecom premium channels was seen as the industry’s Ace card against further subscriber churn, according to Mike Vorhaus with Magid Advisors.

“Sports is a major deterrent to cord cutting,” Vorhaus said in 2015 — a lifetime ago in the rapidly evolving digital media landscape.

“I think it’s 10 years, and there’ll be a total change of the guard,” Chris Long, a former DirecTV executive and now CEO of Cedar Park Entertainment, told Variety last summer. “At some point, people will make that decision of ‘I can get everything I want [in streaming]. I no longer need to have 180 channels that I only watch 12 of.'”

Indeed, sports’ move to digital marks another blow to the channel bundle business model that branched out into online TV (Dish Networks’ Sling TV, AT&T TV and ESPN+ Live TV) in an effort to thwart subscriber churn.

But with OTT video behemoth Netflix uninterested (thus far) in live sports, ViacomCBS’ streaming platform Paramount+, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Amazon Prime Video jumped in the deep end this week, inking separate deals with the NFL, including Peacock and Prime Video being granted exclusive streaming access to “Sunday Night Football” and “Thursday Night Football,” respectively.

Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said ad-supported SVOD/AVOD platforms give media companies dealing with declining pay-TV revenue the ability to increase revenue and offset live-sports carriage fees.

The analyst said Hulu, through its ad-supported options, generates as much as $10 per user per month. The lower tier subscription is limited in its ability to deliver ads (usually three to four minutes per hour), but the completely free versions can advertise as much as 10 to 12 minutes per hour.

“So, there is plenty of room to grow revenue for most of these guys,” Pachter said.

Amazon Prime Video, NFL Sign Historic 10-Year ‘Thursday Night Football’ Streaming Pact

The National Football League had a busy day inking new carriage/streaming deals with media giants NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS. The NFL also announced a 10-year agreement with Amazon Prime Video to exclusively broadcast 15 “Thursday Night Football” games and one pre-season game per year in the U.S. The deal marks first-ever digital package for the NFL.

The Prime Video deal begins in 2023 and is the NFL’s first exclusive national broadcast package with a digital streaming service. The deal is increasing from 11 games to 15 games, with all games airing on Prime Video as part of a Prime membership.

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“This unprecedented package gives tens of millions of new and existing Prime members exclusive access to live football on Prime Video,” Mike Hopkins, SVP of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, said in a statement.

Prime Video will deliver new pre-game, half-time, and post-game shows, and it will continue to offer fan-favorite interactive features like X-Ray and Next Gen Stats, which provide a more customizable viewing experience.

In addition, Prime Video also secured rights to a weekly slate of original NFL programming and expanded rights to in-game highlights for all NFL matchups. Prime Video and the NFL will continue to collaborate on exclusive NFL content and enhanced fan viewing experiences around “Thursday Night Football,” with more information to come ahead of the first game in 2023.

The announcement is a continuation of an expanding relationship between the NFL and Amazon, which first distributed a simulcast of “Thursday Night Football” during the 2017 season.

In April 2020, Amazon and the NFL expanded the existing 11-game “Thursday Night Football” package on Prime Video to include one exclusive regular-season game per year, the first of which was played on Dec. 26 between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals.

The matchup drew an estimated 11.2 million total viewers and delivered the highest digital average-minute audience ever for an NFL regular-season game. Additionally, since 2017, the NFL has used Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its official cloud and machine learning provider for Next Gen Stats, which provides real-time location, speed, and acceleration data for every player during every play on every inch of the field.

In keeping with the NFL’s long-standing commitment to make its games available on free, over-the-air television, each game will also be televised in the participating teams’ home marketplaces.

NFL Inks New Carriage Deals With NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS; Includes Landmark Streaming on Peacock, Paramount+ and Pluto TV

The National Football League March 18 announced separate 11-year carriage/streaming video distribution deals with NBCUniversal and  ViacomCBS. The pacts include notable live-game streaming rights to games on Peacock, Paramount+, and in a first — Pluto TV — underscoring OTT video’s increased presence in live sports programming in the United States.

With the new agreements, which begin with the 2023 NFL season, NBC and Peacock will present “Sunday Night Football” through 2033 — a span of 28 seasons for NBC as the home of the NFL’s top-rated primetime package (since its 2006 debut). In addition, beginning with the upcoming 2021 season, Peacock will stream all “Sunday Night Football” games and the “Football Night in America” studio show. Peacock will also produce a new expanded postgame show following SNF each week.

“Sunday Night Football’ has been television’s most-watched primetime show for a decade, and we look forward to continuing our presentation of SNF, Super Bowls, and playoff games for many years to come, while also broadening our audience with Peacock becoming the live streaming home for all NBC NFL games,” Pete Bevacqua, chairman of NBC Sports Group, said in a statement.

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NBC Sports, which produced the first-ever NFL broadcast on Oct. 22, 1939 (Philadelphia Eagles-Brooklyn Dodgers from Ebbets Field), will present four of the next 13 Super Bowls, including three Super Bowls as part of the new agreement. Home of the upcoming Super Bowl LVI from SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in February 2022, NBC and Peacock will broadcast and stream Super Bowls in February 2026, February 2030 and February 2034. NBC Sports’ presentation of Super Bowl XLIX in February 2015 is the most-watched show in U.S. television history (114.4 million viewers on NBC).

Meanwhile, CBS Sports continues as the home of the NFL’s American Football Conference (AFC), with all games broadcast on the CBS Television Network and streamed live on Paramount+. This historic agreement also grants an expansive list of NFL rights across ViacomCBS networks and platforms (i.e. Pluto TV), enabling the company to maximize its content creation, distribution and reach throughout the length of the deal.

The new agreement allows for CBS Sports to broadcast and stream more Sunday afternoon games and includes an expanded schedule of games featuring teams from the National Football Conference (NFC). In addition, the schedule is highlighted by 10 CBS doubleheaders, including Sundays at 4:25 p.m. ET, eight single-headers and the annual Thanksgiving Day game. CBS Sports will broadcast three Super Bowls over the length of the deal, including the first in the new agreement, Super Bowl LVIII in 2024, as well as Super Bowl LXII in 2028 and Super Bowl LXVI in 2032.

The CBS Television Network and Paramount+ will also present a full slate of playoff games, featuring the AFC Championship game, one Divisional game and one Wild Card game. A second Wild Card game will be added to the CBS Sports lineup during the 2024, 2029 and 2033 seasons.

ViacomCBS will retain extensive in-market exclusivity, ensuring that the CBS-affiliated stations and ViacomCBS platforms will continue to have local availability of “The NFL on CBS.” CBS will also gain increased rights to protect games from being flexed to other networks and time slots.

“Today’s groundbreaking deal ensures that more big games will be available on CBS and Paramount+, with greater NFL programming opportunities featured across all ViacomCBS platforms, including Pluto TV, vastly expanding the NFL’s reach among younger audiences in a rapidly evolving media landscape,” said CEO Bob Bakish.

 

Report: Super Bowl LV Household Viewership Down 15%

While Tom Brady receives much of the attention for winning his seventh Super Bowl, and becoming only the second QB to win it for two different franchises, viewership for the Feb. 7 NFL title game won by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-9 over the Kansas City Chiefs in Tampa, Fla., and all of its associated programming, was down 15% year-over-year, according to new data from Samba TV.

Samba TV tracks viewer recommend program data — called Automatic Content Recognition — from more than 13.5 million smart TVs in the United States.

The company said 32 million households tuned in on Sunday night, down from 37.6 in 2020. Pre-game show viewership was down 13%; the halftime show featuring musical act The Weeknd was down 14%; and the interview with President Joe Biden was down 13%.

Separately, Comscore said initial Super Bowl TV ratings were flat, while NFL Conference Championship games were up 10%.

The lower ratings would be the latest challenge for the NFL after its pandemic-addled season, as teams throughout the league dealt with COVID-19 infections, quarantines and empty stadiums.

Household tune-ins were down throughout the playoffs and the marquee Sunday and Monday night games, according to Samba TV. Two weeks ago, households viewing the AFC and NFC Conference Championship games were down 15% and 17%, respectively, while each game in the divisional round was down 20% to 23%, and the Wild Card weekend games were down 21% to 30%.

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Boston, home of plenty of Tom Brady fans, was the market that over-indexed the most, followed by Kansas City and then Tampa.

Samba said viewership of the game increased a bit during the first 30 mins of the game (when the score was still close), and held pretty steady until around halftime, when viewership dropped a bit.

Household tune-in mostly recovered after halftime, but then there was a steady decrease afterward nationwide and in Kansas City. Not surprisingly, Tampa’s viewership held pretty steadily at the end of halftime through the end of the game as the team’s double-digit lead became insurmountable.

ViacomCBS Eyes Super Bowl LV as Major Paramount+ Marketing Tool

Ahead of Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, in Tampa Bay, Fla., ViacomCBS is expanding the big game’s streaming reach across its digital properties. While the game will be broadcast on CBS Sports, it will also be available on CBSSports.com, CBS Sports app, in addition to Yahoo Sports, and ESPN digital properties.

The game, which will feature the first-ever female official (Down Judge Sarah Thomas), will also be live-streamed on CBS All Access, the SVOD platform that is rebranding to Paramount+ on March 4. As such, expect to see multiple tie-ins across ViacomCBS properties marketing the pending change, including AVOD platform Pluto TV.

Separate data from digital marketing agency Adtaxi found that 68% of survey respondents said they would forgo attending a Super Bowl party to watch the game at home alone.

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Last year’s Super Bowl LIV contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers saw 3.4 million people live-stream the game per minute, which was 30% more than the 2.6 million per minute who live-streamed Super Bowl LIII in 2019; and 103% more than the 1.7 million per minute who live-streamed Super Bowl LI in 2017.

“We’re excited to broaden the availability of our Super Bowl LV stream this year, and we look forward to building on the incredibly strong momentum NFL football is driving on CBS All Access as a cornerstone of the extensive live sports offerings available on the service,” Jeff Gerttula, EVP and GM, CBS Sports Digital, said in a statement.

Regardless, the Super Bowl remains a broadcast TV mainstay. The annual broadcast remains the single-day highest rated TV program with more than 100 million people tuning in.

NFL Wildcard Weekend Broke Broadcast/Streaming Molds

The NFL’s just-concluded busy wildcard playoff weekend saw 12 teams reduced to eight advancing to the divisional round, beginning Jan. 16. Notably, for the first time playoff games were live-streamed (ESPN+, Peacock) and broadcast on a children’s network (Nickelodeon), in addition to the usual TV networks.

During the New Orleans Saints’ win over the Chicago Bears, Nickelodeon viewers got see trademark green slime sprayed virtually into the end zone and across the screen after Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas scored a touchdown. The game drew Nickelodeon’s largest audience in four years with 2 million viewers.

While the simulcast with CBS Sports underscored ViacomCBS’s desire to involve its brands (Nickelodeon) across new markets, for the NFL, the game represented an opportunity to reach a new demo early.

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“Our entire model is based on reach,” Hans Schroeder, EVP and COO of NFL Media, said in an interview Sunday night. “The positive responses have been overwhelming [for the Nickelodeon game], but what we did with CBS was a continuation of what we did across Sunday.”

On Disney-owned ESPN+, streamers saw analytics on steroids with an individual play’s likelihood of succeeding put on display. Indeed, an interception thrown by Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson only had only a 28% chance of being caught by the receiver initially.

Amazon Prime Video and sister company Twitch were the first streaming platforms to offer live NFL coverage through “Thursday Night Football,” featuring the sport’s first female broadcast team.

“When you have as broad appeal as we’re fortunate to have, we want to make sure we’re putting out a broad set of experiences on as many screens as we can, and increase the way our fans engage and enjoy the games,” Schroeder said.

Indeed, ESPN will feature tonight NCAA College Football National Championship Game between The Ohio State Buckeyes and University of Alabama Crimson Tide across 14 separate broadcasts, including streaming.