by Matt Kapko

Twitter scores live-stream deals with MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL

News Analysis
Jul 25, 2016
Consumer ElectronicsSocial Networking AppsSports Software

Twitter's steamy summer of sport got even hotter today as the company inked deals to live-stream MLB and NHL games. Each of the 'Big Four' major U.S. sports leagues is now on board to stream games or related content via Twitter.

twitter logo eyeball
Credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Twitter’s hunt for major sports programming hit a new high today as the company struck deals to live-stream some out-of-market games from Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Hockey League (NHL). During the past three months, the company signed live-stream deals with all of the “Big Four” major sports leagues, and July has been particularly busy. Twitter also inked partnerships with the National Basketball Association (NBA), Pac-12 Conference, Bloomberg Media and CBS News earlier this month. 

Twitter’s user growth remains sluggish, and the company is clearly trying to reinvigorate its platform by making it the go-to destination for live sports, news and media broadcasts. Twitter has had close relationships with major entertainment and sports brands for some time. However, this latest foray into live streaming is the most significant development in its media strategy to date.

[ Related: How and why to verify your Twitter account ]

Users got a preview of Twitter’s live sports chops during the Wimbledon tennis tournament earlier this month, but the company failed to differentiate its stream experience from others. That live stream from match play at Wimbledon was a test, according to the company, and it plans to make many improvements before launching the feature more formally in September.

Twitter navigates complexity of live-streaming sports

Twitter eventually wants to let anyone, whether they’re a Twitter user or not, watch live-streamed games from the National Football League (NFL), NBA, MLB and NHL. The social network says it also plans to stream a new nightly show called “The Rally” that will provide daily highlights from sports commentary exclusively to Twitter users in the United States. The show will be produced by sports programing company 120 Sports and “will combine the production and editorial values of television with the speed and interactivity of digital media,” said Jason Coyle, president of 120 Sports, in a statement.

Twitter’s streaming sports deals highlight the complexity of sports programming rights. The company will stream the first 10 Thursday night NFL games this coming season. However, its agreement with the NBA calls for a new weekly show with exclusive live programming but does not include actual games. Twitter has not announced which specific MLB and NHL games it plans to live-stream, but they will be once a week live streams of out-of-market games. 

The current Twitter live sports lineup is light, and it’s designed not threaten current rights holders’ lucrative broadcast TV contracts. Though Twitter may not have rights to live stream the biggest sports games yet, it is steadily chipping away at the walls that surround professional sports programming.