• Executives promised that NFL deal would spark others
  • Twitter expects to share ad revenue alongside sports video

Twitter is not the first place people think to watch sports. It’s probably not the second or third. But the company is in a hurry to change that.

Best known as a site for posting 140-character messages, Twitter Inc. today announced another pair of deals with professional leagues to live-stream games and behind-the-scenes content. At a time to be determined later, according to the official announcement, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League will bring out-of-network games to Twitter.

With this, the social media company has deals to live-stream games from three of the four major professional leagues. Earlier this year, Twitter agreed to pay $10 million a year for the rights to stream 10 NFL Thursday night games in 2016. Last week Twitter announced a deal with the NBA to stream behind-the-scenes videos, highlights and original shows.

The growing sports strategy is in an effort to change how people think about using Twitter, and how advertisers think of reaching those people. The number of people using the service has been stagnant, but live streams and original content may persuade more to log on and stick around. It also puts Twitter in position to compete for advertisers’ video ad budgets, which would help offset revenue that’s growing more slowly than expected.

The deals are a strategic priority for the company, whose executives have been working to make them happen at conferences such as this month’s Allen & Co. gathering in Sun Valley, Idaho, where several league executives were present. For now, it’s focusing on the sports content that traditional cable carriers ignore: regional games for viewers outside of the region, Olympic sports that may not otherwise get prime time, college sports that appeal to out-of-town fans and alumni.

Twitter has expanded into political content too, with deals to stream the conventions for the U.S. presidential election. On Thursday, Donald Trump’s speech could be watched live alongside a constantly updating stream of related tweets, using the #RNCinCLE hashtag.

For the deals with the NHL and MLB, the company will share revenue on ads that are sold alongside the content. People don’t need Twitter accounts to watch. Twitter also has a deal with 120 Sports, in which the NHL and Major League Baseball Advanced Media are equity partners, to produce a highlights show about various sports each night. Twitter declined to comment on when the streaming would begin.

After inking its deal with the NFL, Twitter told investors that it would help them win other similar partnerships. The company, which has sometimes disappointed on its user growth, revenue growth and product changes, reports earnings on Tuesday. Executives will be able to say they delivered on this promise.

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