Applications on phones have changed so many aspects of our lives. The way we interact with each other, shop, watch videos, find places to go, and entertain ourselves have all improved due to the myriad apps available to the world. But speaking for sports fans, the demands are a lot simpler. They just want to get their scores and news in an efficient way that doesn’t take too much effort. And the sports apps landscape reflects that. While a few companies have made it very easy to get on-the-go updates on teams, the range of innovation has more or less stopped there.
Bow at the Feet of ESPN
For the last 20 or so years, ESPN has dominated the sports media world. They hold broadcasting rights for 3 of the 4 major American sports (you’re missed, hockey) and also have a stranglehold on NASCAR, college football, and major golf and tennis telecasts. Their website is the sports superpower of the Internet, with the fastest updates, most comprehensive news coverage, and best columnists anywhere. Nothing has changed with the rise of mobile apps. ESPN’s website is well-optimized for smartphones, and their ScoreCenter app is the single best sports app available today. Users are able to optimize the app so that they can easily see how their favorite teams are doing. Sports news is also readily available. ScoreCenter even offers a mobile version of the ubiquitous ESPN bottom line that runs across the TV at all times. The mobile bottom line runs sports headlines, and users can press the headline and be directed to the corresponding full news story. Very cool. Push notifications are also available for scoring updates for favorite teams. All in all, this is the best that’s out there right now, and there’s a pretty big gap between this and anything else.
The Race for 2nd
Similar to how other networks are always racing for sports TV rights that can compete with ESPN, the same thing is happening in the mobile world. Both Fox and CBS have sports apps that are adequate. They each provide scores and news, and any sports fan can get their information easily enough by using either. But neither app is as well organized as ESPN’s, neither is as visually appealing, and neither gets information as fast as ESPN does. That’s a problem, and a big reason why neither of these apps are at the same level as ESPN’s ScoreCenter. One possible competitor is NFL Mobile, an app that is exclusively offered to Verizon customers. Run by the NFL, the app conveniently offers scores and news in an easy-to-read fashion, and it offers video both exclusive to the app and from the NFL network. The only problem here is that with the NFL, most fans are able to watch the games since they’re primarily on Sundays. Having a well-run mobile app is redundant when most of its target audience is glued to the TV watching the same product. Also, only offering it to Verizon customers is a drawback. MLB (Major League Baseball) offers a paid app that lets users watch live games on their phone with a subscription to MLB.tv, MLB’s live streaming website. Considering MLB’s appalling Youtube restrictions for old baseball clips (all are banned immediately), this app is a refreshing change of pace for the seemingly geriatric league.
While fans want ease and accessibility for getting scores and news, it gets a little more complicated when it comes to fantasy sports. For the uninformed, a quick description of fantasy sports: Groups of friends form a league and draft players on different teams to form their own teams (often with hilariously offensive names). They manage them as the season goes on. Points are awarded based on the statistics of each player, and teams face each other to see who gets the most points. At the end of the year, a champion is named. (That sounded a lot nerdier than I thought it would.) While baseball started as the most popular sport for fantasy leagues, football has overtaken it in recent years. Some of that has to do with the fact that games are only once a week, and managing a team takes a lot less daily work than other sports require. Fantasy sports is another arena where ESPN is king, with the best designed leagues and the most unique features for users. But the gap between ESPN and everyone else is much smaller in fantasy sports than it is in real sports. Yahoo and NFL.com offer solid fantasy programs, and each has a mobile app to let fantasy players manage their teams on the go. One unique app that has risen lately is Fantasy Monster, by Bignoggins Productions. This fantasy aggregator lets users manage their fantasy teams from any of the above places without having to toggle between apps and websites. For people that may have one fantasy team on Yahoo and one on ESPN with different friends, this can be very useful. The app has had so much success that it’s risen near the top of the App Store’s list of top sports apps. On the whole, ESPN has an edge here, but there are options to be had.
Innovation is the name of the game for almost all apps, but for sports the goal is acceleration. Getting information as fast as possible is always key. With these new apps and the new ways that fans are getting their news, that process is constantly speeding up. The heart of the sports media world still beats in Bristol, Connecticut, the home of ESPN. But if someone can come up with the next way to get information out there faster? The sports world will be watching.