With football season in full swing, we’ve been seeing the usual litany of news and online chatter around players, teams and much-anticipated faceoffs. One of the most interesting pieces of news to come out of the first few weeks of the season, however, is around a new deal between the NFL and Reddit.

As part of this new content and advertising partnership, Reddit will host a series of its popular Ask Me Anything (AMAs) discussions with current and former NFL players, league executives, team personnel and famous fans. While this move isn’t necessarily surprising (celebrities and other pop culture icons have long been doing AMAs, much to the delight of their fans), we were curious what might have prompted the NFL to make this move into the realm of new media.

When we dug into our data around the NFL and Reddit, we found an interesting connection – predating the announcement of the deal between the two – by way of Hard Knocks, an annual sports documentary series that follows one NFL team through their training camp and other preparation for the year’s football season. 

The Rise of Reddit

This year’s edition of Hard Knocks, which dug deep into the professional and personal lives of the Oakland Raiders, was aired by HBO over five episodes from August 6th to September 3rd, 2019. 

When we looked at online conversations that mentioned both the Raiders and Hard Knocks from July 31st to September 5th (giving ourselves a little window on either end of the show’s run), we found 45,632 total mentions of the two terms used jointly. 

Joint mentions of the Oakland Raiders and Hard Knocks series from July 31, 2019 to September 5th, 2019.

When we plotted those mentions over the time period we inspected, it was easy to identify when each episode of the show aired, with the premiere garnering the most attention, the second and third episodes maintaining interest with about the same amount of mentions and a sharp decrease in the penultimate episode, before climbing back up in the finale. 

More importantly, however, while 62% of the total mentions came from Twitter, a platform dominance we expected for real-time discussion of a TV show, 14% of the mentions we reviewed came from Reddit, which is not always perceived as a real-time discussion platform. (The remaining 24% of mentions came from a variety of sources, including blogs, Facebook, and others.)

Digging Deeper

Breakdown of Twitter vs. Reddit SOV for each episode of this year’s Hard Knocks series.

To better understand this rise in Reddit conversation, we broke down the Twitter and Reddit SOV for each episode. Interestingly enough, we found that while the second and third episodes had some of the lowest total mentions per episode (excepting, of course, the fourth episode), they had the highest proportion of live Reddit posting, resulting in about 38% Reddit SOV for the second episode and nearly half of the SOV for the third episode.

The most popular subreddit (a discussion forum for a specific topic on Reddit) for Episode 2 was r/NFL, within which were a few popular master posts on which people live commented throughout the episode. In total, there were 857 overall mentions of Hard Knocks and the Raiders during the second episode on Reddit, with 156 (20%) of those mentions being about Antonio Brown (previously a wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders, now a wide receiver for the New England Patriots, as of September 7th) or Jon Gruden (head coach of the Oakland Raiders). 

Similarly, the most popular subreddit for Episode 3 was also r/NFL, which saw 746 mentions of the Raiders and Hard Knocks as Redditors were live posting during the show. 

Reddit post with NFL-specific Reddit flairs. Please note, potentially offensive language is blurred in this post.

Throughout our examination, we also noticed a Reddit flair (an icon or text that appears next to a username) that allows users to show support for their favorite team. While this feature has been available on Reddit for some time, its continued adoption demonstrates that Hard Knocks’ popularity crosses fanbases and encompasses NFL fans as a whole, not just fans of a specific team – a further proof point for the growing engagement and community of NFL fans, real-time or otherwise, on Reddit.

Looking Ahead

In the end, our data seems to sync up the NFL’s decision to dive into the world of Reddit. While no money is being exchanged between the NFL and Reddit for this partnership, the two will split revenues from any sponsored content that results from the agreement. And seeing as the NFL also recently announced a partnership with TikTok, the micro-video social media app popular with Gen Z and Millennials, it’s clear that the NFL is strategically banking on the growing engagement and interest in nontraditional and next-gen media to take it all the way to the endzone.   

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