NFL teams show real creativity to battle coverage blackout

NFL teamsOne of the greatest benefits of the internet and social media is how easy it is to communicate and break news stories as they happen.

Equally, one of the biggest challenges of the internet and social media is how easy it is to to communicate and break news stories.

For you and I, readers of the news, we never had it so good. We can consume what ever news story is trending, as it happens with relative ease. We can also broadcast our own opinions all around the globe and join the conversation.

For the makers of the news, there’s a power-play going on.

Just ask the NFL teams.


#Hashtag Wars


In the US applications to trademark hashtags were first submitted in 2013 ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games. Ordinary people could use any Olympic related #hashtag about the event. The trademarked hashtags meant that it was now possible to restrict what companies did on social media.

Only official sponsors, meaning companies that had paid big bucks for the priviledge were allowed post using trademarked #hashtags.

Sounds ridiculous.

People will do crazy things when there are billions of advertising dollars at stake.


NFL Teams Coverage Clampdown


In June, just months before the Olympics, the National Football League (NFL) wrote to all their teams saying they could only use official footage from the games in there marketing channels. This meant Periscope, Facebook Live, Vine, GIFs, Instagram, Snapchat videos were all now illegal, contraband.

The penalty for posting “anything that moves” from kick-off to an hour after game time is $25,000 for the first offence rising up by a multiple to a maximum $100,000 for the fourth offence and beyond. The exception is if the club ‘re-posts’ official League footage, which would be made available during the games.


Awww C’mon man?


I can understand the need to protect the rights of media companies that had paid a pretty penny to screen game time footage. But ultimately the fans that can’t access the official channels are the ones losing out.

What made it even more sketchy was there were two stipulations

  1. The clubs were also instructed not to tell anyone why they were not posting their own footage during game time and…
  2. It would kick in 4 weeks after the League had started.

Sounds like the NFL

  1. firstly, wanted to cover up what they were doing and
  2. secondly, give people a taste in the hope that when the blackout happened the fans would flock to the official sources of footage.

Reports suggest viewer numbers for the early season games was down 10% on the previous season. I’m not sure the League is going about the right way to lure the fans back.


Necessity is the Mother of Invention


The NFL has since relaxed their restrictions around GIFs… and this is where the clubs started to get creative.

I’m going to use some NFL teams tweets’ to show how things have evolved.


That was then…


The tweet below has official footage from the Philadelphia Eagles versus the Minnesota Vikings. Previous to the blackout The Eagles might have been able to use this footage shortly after the touchdown was scored. If you click on the embedded tweet you’ll see the over-pitch camera follow a fantastic kick return for a touchdown. Honestly, its worth a watch.



The Eagles didn’t use this footage on game day. Instead, they posted this tweet in the days after the game. Chances are, fans had already caught a glimpse of the score on news bulletins. Bottom line the Eagles couldn’t capitalise on a piece of content staring one of their own players.

Footage from the official source is available on game day, but its not straight forward as you’ll see below.


First Drafts


The first attempt by some NFL teams to overcome the blackout were tame enough.

You’ll see an example below from the New York Jets. It’s basically and image of the stadium with the player and the word ‘interception’ captioned. Not really worth a look… but the next one is where it starts to get interesting.



A number of NFL teams started to get a little bit more creative. The tweet below is a good example. Its from the Philadelphia Eagles again.  In addition to showing a nice spark of creativity I think it doubles up as a shot towards the NFL for putting the teams in this position.



Ohhh its on now


The Eagles upped the ante in their week six game against the Vikings. The tweet embedded below was originally posted during the game. It got hundereds of likes and retweets. It has been reposted in the after the game and each one still managed to get hundred of ‘likes’ and retweets.



The other option


The New England Patriots have opted to use the offiicial footage. The only issue here is there is a substantial delay in getting the footage.

The tweet by the Patriots below was posted at the time of the touchdown.



It was almost 30 minutes later before they posted the official footage of the score. You’ll notice the video comes after a paid peice of advertising.



Embrace the Second Screen


As I said above I can understand why the NFL wants to protect its sponsors. It would be great if the all fans had access to the official footage.  But I’m not sure that hitting the NFL teams with a coverage blackout of sorts will endear the League to many people, especially the fans.

The advent of the ‘second screen’ means there are marketing opportunities associated with TV programming that are not on TV. The second screen is where people are watching TV while browsing the internet and social media on another device at the same time. For example, following a ‘live tweeting’ social media account or a website that is  ‘live blogging’ events can either enhance your TV viewing or substitute real time commentary if you can’t watch the actual live coverage.

In a recent PSG Group survey 55% of Irish respondents admitted to looking at social media or sports websites as the action unfolds. This was up from 38% in 2014. When you consider the average Irish person owns three connected devices its hardly surprising that the “second screen” phenomenon, continued to gain momentum in Ireland last year.

Many Irish sports fans do not like to be passive either. Some 27 per cent claim they engage or contribute to online conversations “most of the time”, with almost half (48 per cent) doing so “some of the time”. PSG found that dual-screen consumption is common practice among 18-44 age groups.

Don’t think for a second that the second screener is dominated by the male sports fan. The female engagement on social for FIFA 2014 was staggering. Women between the ages of 18-34 were more engaged on social media than men 35-44. The cohorts ranked as follows –

  1. Men 18-24
  2. Men 25-34
  3. Women 18-24
  4. Women 25-34
  5. Men 35-44

According to research by Google, sports fans flock to YouTube both before and after the game. Whether the fans are in the stadium, at the bar or stretched out on the couch at home, they’ll have more than one screen at their disposal.


In conclusion


The second screen and social media have become part of the modern event experience.  And it is another way in which fans can engage with the goings on, whether they are at the event or not.

There are plenty of opportunties to generate engagement and build brand awareness. It may even be possible to monetise the situation.

The NFL have taken a heavy handed approach and limited the playing field (pun intended). With their TV viewing numbers down approx. 10% after the early season games, they started to take measures into their own hands. Furthermore, this took access away from the teams but more importantly the fans. We’ll see if it backfires or not.

Thanks for reading.

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