How Are Sports Apps Increasing User Engagement?

Read Time: 5 min

Sports is akin to religion for some people (Localytics offices have more than a few Red Sox fans), and as a result, there are thousands of different sports apps out there -- and probably several thousand lists of the best ones. (Here’s one such example.) Sports apps serve a variety of masters, from users needing scores when they’re running errands to the people fanatical about checking their fantasy football team, to those who want to get better at golf drives. You remember the old slogan: “There’s an app for that.” True as true is in the sports sub-category, which was one of the fastest-growing for large parts of 2016.

But how are these sports apps taking advantage of mobile trends and driving a greater user experience while getting something potentially monetizable in return?


Rich Push


We’re not going to sugar coat it: push notifications can be intrusive if they’re not done well. But rich push notifications are a different, more engaging game: it’s a push notification that contains some form of media file, i.e. picture, GIF, video, or audio. This is yet another example of push notifications “growing up,” and it makes a lot of sense if you also have strong personalization. For example, here’s CBS Sports combining imagery (rich) with personalization (Oregon fans) to hit a real nice rich push target:



CBS Sports captures a big moment in a rich push notification.


Because sports fans are usually rabid around a specific team, if you have them indicate that team when they download the app, you can really drive some traffic via rich push. Consider this: users opting into push messages visit an app 14.7 times per month; those not opting in visit about 5.6 times per month. All messaging needs to hyper-relevant and hyper-personalized, and rich push is one way to do that.




This is continuing to get bigger and bigger, and it makes a lot of sense for sports apps. The NFL set up a ‘Super Bowl Boulevard’ the last few years, whereby people interact near a beacon and get alerts about autograph signings, concerts, kids’ events, and more. The power is there for sports teams as well: they can aggregate lists of every fan that shared social content at a game, including handle, follower count, and more. This helps determine social reach but also allows for social post data mining around connection to the team and sentiment analysis. It’s all within the context of setting the arena/stadium as a geo-fence. (Check out our 49ers example a little further down to see it in action!)


Understanding the shifting ecosystem.

This isn’t necessarily a tactic, but it’s important to understand if you’re going to have mobile success with a sports app. Sports has been dominated by advertising and television pretty much since its mainstream existence began. But research from Mary Meeker, Sports Business Daily, and the Center for Digital Future at USC shows a big shift: 65 percent of Generation Z and younger fans are already consuming sports content on mobile.


65% of Generation Z and younger fans are already consuming sports content on mobile.


Mobile growth in this segment is 66 percent year-over-year, whereas conventional print/television advertising is actually declining. It may take another half-decade or more, but if ad spend catches up to consumer time spent on mobile, then all parts of the sports ecosystem (teams, leagues, score apps, etc.) will be driven by mobile growth.

As much as how we watch has evolved, one thing has stayed consistent; the need to share and interact. It’s estimated that as 77% of people watching sports do so with another device nearby, like a laptop, tablet, and--most likely of all--their phone. Fantasy leagues, richer content, messaging with other fans--users crave these kinds of experiences while they watch sports.


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ESPN Fantasy for Android.


Mobile ticketing

One logically good thing -- this would be better for the environment. From a business standpoint, though, it
creates a marketing edge for teams and ticketing-focused apps by giving them more data on fans. With that kind of data, you can suggest games and special events, predict the number of tickets that user will want to purchase, and more. And let’s say you attended a game on a mobile ticket and the pitcher throws a perfect game. If the team was using mobile ticketing, you have automatic revenue streams by sending push notifications the next morning such as “Print this all-time ticket at home.” (You could even rich push that message!)



Gametime uses location and user history to suggest relevant events.




You are seeing this more and more too, as bigger brands need tech/app partners to make sure they’re executing on brand promise related to fan experience. One example: Intel and ESPN partnered up on the X-Games for real-time info on jump heights, rotation degrees, and strength of landing. Not everyone is super into the X-Games, but these types of partnerships are applicable to many sports apps -- and can be revenue-boosters for both parties. Another example is the San Francisco 49ers partnership with Amazon Prime. Now 49ers fans and app users can save their tailgates and have last-minute items delivered right to the stadium parking lot.



 What other ways have you seen sports apps engage their users?


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