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Snapchat's 42 Million NFL Viewers Were Big Part in IPO Path

By Published on .

Snapchat co-founders Bobby Murphy and Evan Spiegel, center, opened the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday.
Snapchat co-founders Bobby Murphy and Evan Spiegel, center, opened the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. Credit: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
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Snapchat has revealed how big its NFL audience is for the first time since solidifying its extensive partnership with the league, which drew 42 million unique U.S. viewers last season, according to the company.

The messaging and media app shared the numbers ahead of its public offering on Thursday, offering a glimpse into one of its key media relationships, which brings content and ad revenue to the platform. Snapchat went public with close to 160 million daily users and $400 million in ad sales in 2016, and it was valued at almost $30 billion once its stock started trading -- that's more than double what Twitter is worth on Wall Street.

"With Snapchat, we saw this company that was growing quickly and it was reaching this growing audience of young people," said Blake Stuchin, NFL's VP-digital media business development. "And it's a very engaged audience of young people and a different form factor than you see in other places."

Snapchat has literally upended digital media, forcing brands and publishers to shoot vertically for video on mobile phones, a format most people shunned before the app came along. It also pioneered augmented reality with animated filters called lenses, which people place on top of their video selfies, altering the image with a playful graphic.

Snapchat also created a section where publishing partners like the NFL curate daily channels, and they sell ads amid the content.

The National Football League had been one of Snapchat's closest sports collaborators, since it first showed highlights from the 2015 draft to people on the app. Last year, the league started posting videos from inside select games to live stories in Snapchat, offering an inside perspective on game day from the sidelines and the stands.

In 2015, NFL content reached 31 million unique U.S. viewers, according to Snapchat. For the 2016-17 season, the league launched the dedicated daily channel, with specially crafted articles and videos, and it hosted live stories around every game, leading to the 35% jump in viewership.

The 42 million unique viewers this year represented a big portion of Snapchat's U.S. user base, which was 61.7 million in 2016, according to eMarketer.

The NFL also is a major revenue driver for Snapchat, which had been selling ad packages starting at $225,000 and rising to $5 million.

Snapchat declined to provide comment for this story, and the NFL would not divulge revenue figures. However, NFL content had around a dozen sponsors throughout the season, including Bud Light, Gatorade, Pepsi, Amazon and others.

Brands were creating Snap Ads with short mobile videos and interactive elements, showcasing much of Snapchat's latest ad products. Gatorade and Pepsi ran Sponsored Lenses during the Super Bowl.

During the playoffs, the NFL began offering lenses that put helmets on people's selfies, generating 76 million views for the league over two weeks.

In many ways, the NFL is the quintessential example of Snapchat's dream of becoming the next TV -- top media partners producing original content and selling that to advertisers in upfront multimillion-dollar deals.

Snapchat has recently brought on A&E Networks, Discovery Communications, NBC Universal and others to produce channels on the site.

There is still a question, however, around whether its user base is as attracted to this new media section as it is to messaging friends. There are 2.5 billion "Snaps" sent a day, among a hardcore user base of 13-to-24-year-olds, many of whom check the service compulsively.

"Messaging is a majority of all the activity in the app," said a social media exec, who works closely with Snapchat and spoke on condition of anonymity. "All the media stuff is a distraction, like a magician trying to draw your attention somewhere else."

About half of the people on Snapchat follow a sports channel, according to a recent survey by Fluent, an analytics firm.

There have also been concerns that Snapchat's growth has plateaued, with its user growth beginning to slow as it faces more competition from motivated rival Instagram. Snapchat stood at 158 million daily users at the end of last year, which was only 3% more users than it had in the prior quarter.

All digital platforms are chasing the same premium properties such as the NFL. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others are trying to attract the media partners that help populate content, suck in viewers and open more ad inventory.

Twitter streamed 10 NFL games in their entirety this year, and was asking for ad deals similar to Snapchat that covered the whole season of coverage. The live product garnered 3.5 million views on average each game, which would mean 35 million all season.

The NFL drew 48.5 million viewers on TV for its Packers-Cowboys playoff game, and television brings in $3.5 billion in ad revenue.

"The way we look at [digital platforms] is it's incremental to everything else we're doing," Mr. Stuchin said of the league's platform distribution strategy.