Starting Wednesday, the NFL will punish teams that share unapproved league content like videos and GIFs on social media with fines of up to $100,000 and the loss of "rights to post League-Controlled Content (including game footage)," according to Mashable, who obtained an early copy of the NFL memo outlining the new rules.
The guidelines encompass “anything that moves,” going beyond original game footage to include even tangentially related material. Mashable also obtained an email from the NFL stating league content is "not to be distributed externally to any third parties, including, but not limited to, our social media partners."
- A more stringent approach follows slipping ratings, with viewership declining 11% overall and 12% with the coveted 18-49 demo in the first four weeks of the season, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, though NFL VP of Communications Brian McCarthy told Mashable the social media changes had been "in the works throughout the summer."
While the NFL previously permitted independent social media branding by its teams, it now has major deals to consider — including a 10-game, $10 million video package with Twitter — and may not want to dilute content away from official partners. The Twitter deal was also signed in April, before the summer stretch when McCarthy suggested the new guidelines were "in the works," so it's believable that tighter social media control came about as a means to better centralize and formalize the NFL's growing number of channels.
But, as Mashable notes, the changes arrive at an odd time –– a full month into the season –– and are likely tied to recent reports of shrinking viewership as well, something that’s rarely been an issue for the sports powerhouse in the past, and may subsequently be causing a bit of a concern. A thinning TV audience isn't unusual though, as three of the four major networks reported ratings drops in 2016, with younger demos consistently turning off the tube in favor of live streaming video alternatives.
Given that the NFL willingly split its media streams between linear TV, Twitter and other outlets to account for multichannel viewing habits, it can’t be too surprised that some of its central audience has been siphoned off. What the NFL might not have considered is how unhappy that fragmentation could make traditional TV sponsors, and the organization may indeed feel chagrined for choosing Twitter as a partner now that some sponsors are finding its numbers “underwhelming” according to AdAge, with the micro-blogging site propping up live video as a Hail Mary to turn its own failing platform around.