WASHINGTON — Just seven weeks after dropping the hammer on the social media teams around the league, the NFL has reportedly backed off of tight restrictions on game content shared on social media.
In a memo circulated to teams on Friday afternoon, the league has re-opened the door to animated gifs and video highlights, as well as specific instructions for acceptable live streamed video. Teams have been banned for most of the season from sharing their own highlights during the game, instead relying on only NFL sanctioned highlights, played with advertising pre-roll.
If this seems trivial, it wasn’t for the teams, who were threatened with $25,000 fines for an initial infraction, then $50,000 for a second offense, and $100,000 for any violation thereafter. The latter two numbers are greater than the salaries of most NFL social media marketing employees.
Part of the decision to acquiesce in this decision comes from a new league partnership with Giphy, which will be tested between now and June 2017. This content is intended to focus on “ancillary content” such as player reactions and celebrations, as opposed to the actual highlights.
Game highlights will still be routed through the league servers, however, which delays the time it takes for teams to post those videos without violation. Intrepid fans and bloggers will still clip footage in real time and beat both the NFL and teams to posting the video to social media.
Here are some highlights that fans can expect to see right away:
- An increased number of highlight videos per social media platform (eight to 16)
- A focus on non-broadcast footage, including fan videos, sideline reactions, pre-game and halftime performances
- Live broadcasts from pre-game and post-game
- Instantaneous locker room footage (instead of being on a one-hour delay).
Each of these decisions is based on broadcast negotiations and contracts, in which specific rights are granted to certain media partners. Almost all broadcast rights were broadly granted to TV networks in the age before live broadcasting on mobile devices.
For the last two seasons, the Washington Redskins have benefitted from having a team writer stationed on the sidelines capturing content in real time. Even in stadiums with notoriously unreliable cellular signals, that staffer could have first-person footage of a highlight play posted within a minute of the play.
Teams could tweet out a score update, then the first-person footage, then game broadcast footage in succession, creating a multi-faceted, multi-angle experience of the play. Under the current restrictions, the Redskins have abandoned the strategy altogether, instead tweeting generic gifs and images like this:
The team has also found other innovative content solutions, including these newly released “Hailmojis”:
The NFL is caught between a rock and a hard place on TV contracts. It is currently in the third year of nine-year contracts with CBS, NBC, FOX and ESPN worth nearly $40 billion. These contracts were signed with little consideration for the impending competition of social media, which means that no truly innovative solution is likely in the near term.
In addition, the NFL’s deals with Twitter and Giphy create an awkward relationship with Facebook, the world’s most popular social media network, which is a direct competitor to Twitter and also not gif-friendly.
Throw in the fact that TV viewership is down double-digit percents year-over-year, and the NFL is scrambling to appease both angry clubs and angry networks.