How the NFL is Using Twitter to Increase Fan Engagement

Malik Zafar, Digital Marketing Intern

The NFL’s relationship with social media wasn’t love at first sight by any means.

The league, which had always been cautious about its digital distribution rights, took its time (by Internet standards) cementing its social media presence. As an organization that has had its fair share of PR disasters and scrutiny, it makes sense why the NFL would be uneasy in entering the unfiltered world of social media. But in today’s digital landscape, even the NFL is forced to keep up with the Joneses, and so they did.

Reaching a Distracted Audience Base

Last year, the NFL announced it would opt-in for a test-run of a new initiative by Twitter aimed at tackling the second-screen fallacy, dubbed Twitter Amplify. The program launched at a critical time for media companies, who were scrambling to find viable and creative solutions for addressing today’s living room audiences. In the past, advertisers could be confident in knowing that the commercials they ran on TV would be perceived by a large portion of their target audience. That confidence has begun to deflate in the past few years as mobile devices have forced themselves into the living room. Today’s typical TV viewer is a multi-tasker, switching between their smartphone, tablet, laptop and television as many as 27 times per hour.


Instead of fighting the wave of portable technology, media companies and brands have begun exploring ways to connect the mobile world to the home. Examples of this have become more prominent over the past few years, especially with live programming. Spectacles like the Grammys, Oscars and Super Bowl have become hot topics on social media, especially Twitter. The mass congregation of users accessing and engaging with the medium concurrently has opened up new marketing opportunities for brands. For example, Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie at last year’s Oscars broke records on Twitter, accumulating over 3.3 million retweets and dethroning the previous record held by President Obama by a longshot (the President’s tweet after winning his second bid in 2012 garnered 778,000 retweets).


But the true winner that night wasn’t DeGeneres and the posse of Hollywood A-listers crammed around her, or the Oscars, or even Twitter. The true winner was Samsung. Their Galaxy Note 3 was the phone used to capture the world’s most famous selfie and the brand reaped all the benefits of the event. Samsung leveraged this to demonstrate that social media and TV work better when used together.

Integrating Cross-Device Experiences

Like Samsung, the NFL is aware of the value that social media via a second screen can add to game days. Greg Isaacs, VP of Digital Media for the league, predicts that as many as 50 to 80 percent of NFL fans watch games with a second screen. This is why the Amplify Program makes sense for the league and also why the NFL decided to re-up their deal with Twitter over the summer. In doing so, the league is able to continue exploring new revenue streams with brand partners while increasing user engagement.

Twitter Amplify allows the NFL to send promoted tweets to over 284 million users, consisting of up-to-the-second highlights from select games, equipped with a short video advertisement from partners like McDonalds and Verizon. So far, the program has proven to be a big hit for the NFL, which has dubbed itself the “Champ of Twitter’s Amplify Program.”

Vishal Shah, VP of Digital Media Business Development for the NFL, discussed the success of the Twitter marriage, “The NFL is the highest performing Amplify partner on Twitter.”


According to Shah, around 30 million users interact with the NFL in some fashion through Twitter, with its videos demanding 4.5 times the rate for user engagement than average Amplify partners. By leveraging Twitter’s live component, the NFL is able to connect with fans as big plays develop on the field. In short – big plays develop on the field, a highlight is immediately made available through Twitter, the highlight fosters user engagement and the NFL is able to dominate the “What’s Trending” list – all while pulling in millions in extra revenue.

Continuing Fan Conversations

Duane Munn, social media manager for NFL.com and NFL Network, further expands on the NFL’s Twitter strategy and the creative ways the organization is utilizing the technology to increase audience engagement, "Whether it's through a call-to-action prompt on TV to tweet opinions and participate in a Twitter poll — which is later discussed on air by analysts — or just respond to web sentiment, one of our main goals is to do a better job communicating with fans online.”

NFL-scheduled-game-tweets2Twitter is taking its partnership one step further by creating unique timelines for all weekly NFL matchups, similar to their World Cup strategy. Fans can share their sentiments before, during and after their team’s take the field using a provided hashtag. This keeps conversations centralized and easy to access, letting fans of the same team (or opposing) engage in conversation about the NFL. And that’s the key—to keep people talking about the brand. Next time you’re tweeting about the dropped pass in the end zone, you’re actually taking part in a big marketing campaign.

The partnership between the NFL and Twitter doesn’t end when the season does either. During the 2013 Draft, for example, the NFL leveraged Twitter to increase engagement with fans sitting in their living rooms. Prospective players were allowed to take selfies using iPads, which were then tweeted to millions, giving fans at home an early glimpse at new players. This showcases the importance of social media in the NFL’s overall growth strategy.


The NFL is a great example of a brand utilizing social UX, or sUX, as mentioned in our recent blog. The concept stresses the importance of not only being seen but heard, urging brands to leverage the distinctive features of each social media channel to create user engagement that is impactful and creative.

Social UX also encourages brands to decipher and understand the culture of the community that is being targeted on a particular social media channel. For instance, Twitter is known for being very much in the moment. For anyone who follows a good number of people on Twitter, you know how quickly your timeline can aggregate content, especially concerning breaking news. While this feature of Twitter may be disadvantageous to some, for brands like the NFL, it is ideal. Live sports are all about being in the moment and nothing quite captures it like a live bulletin board of comments and interactions from people all around the world.

Malik Zafar

About the author: Malik Zafar

Malik is a Marketing Coordinator at R2i, a basketball connoisseur and music enthusiast. When he’s not busy checking the box score of the Wizards game you can find him assisting with a vast array of internal marketing efforts including social media, content and research. In pursuit of greatness, Malik uses the first 11 words of the Pokemon theme song to keep him motivated.

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