TNF on Twitter: This isn't your father's NFL anymore

During last week's live stream of the New York Jets-Buffalo Bills game on Twitter, a tweet from @EricHaycook, a Bills fan, got to the essence of what made it so historic.

"My beautiful newborn baby girl watching football an entirely different way than I did growing up! #TNF," Haycook tweeted.

Indeed, it is a new world for the NFL, and it is changing by the minute. The league is responding by launching social media initiatives to offer fans new ways to consume the game on various platforms.

Last Thursday, viewers saw the first of 10 games of "Thursday Night Football" this season on Twitter. In April, the NFL signed an exclusive agreement with Twitter to be the OTT provider for those games. With the telecast also airing on CBS and NFL Network, the set-up allows fans to monitor the action on Twitter and see real-time tweets commenting on the game.

Snapchat is another social platform where the NFL is ramping up its storytelling efforts. The NFL is the first sports league to have a presence on Snapchat's "Discover." The content will deliver the latest headlines and hot topics, trends and inside access videos, all programmed on Snapchat. Also, every NFL game will be presented in a unique Snapchat way in "Live Stories," featuring a mix of fan-submitted Snaps and inside access content.

The league also has expanded its partnership with YouTube. Three of the most memorable games for each of the 32 NFL teams now are available on the NFL's official channel on YouTube. Fans were involved in the selection of those games.

As that Bills fan said, this isn't your father's NFL anymore. While the NFL is the most-watched sports league in the U.S., Tom Brady, the vice-president for social media and emerging programming, says the league can't afford to simply rely on conventional platforms to engage fans in 2016. He notes old school isn't effective with many fans in the younger demographic, who now routinely turn to social media platforms first for their news.

"It's been interesting to watch the evolution of the media as a whole and our place in it," Brady said. "It's a fun challenge. Today's Snapchat is tomorrow's who knows what? We're closely monitoring all the platforms. We want to stay out in front of where and how fans are going to have a touch point with the NFL."

Brady says the media evolution has caused a philosophical shift within all of the NFL's content providers. Previously, the notion was, "Let's produce great content and get it out there."

Now, Brady says the emphasis is matching a particular story or a piece of information with the right platform. And he stresses there's no such thing of doing a piece just for NFL.com or NFL Network.

For instance, during the filming of this year's "Hard Knocks," featuring the Los Angeles Rams, Brady said producers were asked if they saw something interesting to record quick cell phone videos that could be used on various platforms.

"Facebook is very different than Twitter and Twitter is very different than Snapchat," Brady said. "Maybe there's a two-minute piece that's great for Facebook, and here's a 10-second video that is perfect for Snapchat. Now there's literally eight different touch points. We have to create our content and adjust accordingly."

Brady was encouraged by the positive reviews for last week's first game on Twitter. While he liked how the format allowed fans to get deeper engaged with the game, he already is looking at making some tweaks with the tweets.

"It was great to have the pulse of the fan," Brady said. "Now we have figure out ways to bubble up some experts and get other trusted voices in there (with tweets about the game)."

Brady believes the "Live Stories" on Snapchat is a terrific way for fans to experience what it is like to be inside the stadium on game day. He pointed to the Snaps from the stands in the fourth quarter as Minnesota clinched its victory over Green Bay Sunday.

"When you hear that crowd go bananas from the fans' perspective, it makes you feel like you're there," Brady said.

Expanding its relationship with YouTube was a logical step for the NFL. Viewers spend on average 45 minutes to an hour on the NFL's YouTube channel. Brady said that "dwarfs any other platform." He hopes the average time gets even bigger as fans watch the memorable games they helped select.

It is all just a start for the NFL's social media initiatives. Or make that a never-ending process as the league continues to evolve with the ever-changing platforms.

However, there is a constant, and it is part of the reason why Brady said he "got chills" from that Bills fan's tweet about how his baby daughter will be watching football differently than he did. It ties in to the NFL's current "Football is Family" promotional campaign.

"That communal experience of families watching the NFL always is going to be there," Brady said. "Technology, though, will change how people do that. Our job is to stay in front of it and get the technology right."

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