On 15 September 2016, the New York Jets beat the Buffalo Bills 37-31 in the Bills’ New Era Field. Never has there been a more aptly named stadium for a game… The Jets v Bills game was streamed live on social media site Twitter, a first for the NFL.

Twitter streamed the US national network CBS’ broadcast simultaneously to an average audience of 243,000 each of whom watched an average of 22 minutes of the game.

The game (together with the other Thursday night football matches) were also streamed live across a number of NFL’s other digital platforms which led to a total number of 2.4 million digital viewers. Viewers on Apple TV could also elect to watch via the Twitter app and to have a live stream of Tweets alongside the broadcast, a dual screen experience.

Despite some teething problems with the dual screen and debate as to whether Twitter’s foray into live streaming was an immediate success, there can be no doubt that it is the latest stage in the growing trend amongst sports organisations to exploit new technologies and to allow their fans to consume their favourite game, match or event via mobile.

Last year, Yahoo paid $17 million to be the first company to live stream an NFL match on mobile. Yahoo streamed the London based matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills via their apps on Apple TV, smartphone and tablets. The Bills lost 34-31 and perhaps should reconsider being a part of live stream games, but, for those other than Bills fans, the outcome of the match was less important than what it could signify: a new era of live sports consumption without the need for cables, a house or even a pub!

The NFL is not the only sport to be trialling live streams of their games on social media:

  • In April 2016, Orlando Pride’s season opening game in the USA’s National Women’s Soccer League was live streamed on Facebook;
  • In July 2016, the NBA announced that a number of the USA’s pre-Olympic exhibition matches would be streamed live on Facebook; and
  • In August 2016, Wayne Rooney’s testimonial match featuring Manchester United against Everton was streamed live on the footballer’s and the club’s Facebook pages.

For those of us who are more accustomed to watching the football in the pub with our mates on a conventionally large widescreen, watching a game on the small screen may still take some getting used to. However, live streaming is by no means the only technology that seeks to change the way in which we engage with sport. eSports is paving the way for conventional sports by offering its viewers an opportunity to watch via virtual reality: in essence, it allows the viewer to experience the sporting event from in the stadium or the event itself. Augmented reality (the layering of digital interactive images over real life objects) is also likely to transform future sports watching and may lead to us becoming accustomed to holograms of our favourite sports stars leaping or sprinting around our TV rooms…

Why is this important? From a legal perspective, sport stakeholders and social media platforms alike will have to wait to see how this type of live streaming will be regulated (for a recent post commenting on this see here) and/or whether social media platforms can or will provide a true challenge to the traditional broadcast models. From a sports fan’s perspective, it’s just exciting (and that is also important!).