“The Ultimate Mobile App for…” is a new blog series that will highlight the top three features and characteristics of mobile apps for specific industries and uses. We’ll take a look at the users most likely to engage with the mobile app, then identify the key features or characteristics that the app should have to be successful.

The first industry we’ll target is the sports industry.

Target Customers: Sports Fans

Sports fans are super passionate about their favorite teams and players, and mobile apps are perfect for them to stay on top of the latest scores and stats when on the move. Real-time info is the name of the game in sports, and you should consider these characteristics to engage your fans.

Top Three Features and Characteristics for Sports Apps

1) Stats Feeds

Stats are the lifeblood of sports, and apps with live stats feeds help fans keep track of the game when they’re mobile. Thus, a sports application, especially one that focuses on teams and games, has to have a real-time stats feed, and these typically come in XML or JSON data format. STATS is the most popular stats provider and serves some of the largest sports sites, including Yahoo! Sports. SportsData and The Sports Network are among other options.

MLB.com’s At Bat application is the quintessential live stats app, and it’s no wonder why it’s one of iOS’s top 10 grossing apps of all time. Not only does At Bat feed you typical game stats such as scores, runs, and hits, it also integrates Sportvision’s Pitch f/x to provide visuals and data about pitch location, velocity, movement, and sequence.

2) Social Media Integration

Just as real-time as statistics, social networks like Twitter and Facebook allow sports fans to converse with fellow fans or talk smack to arch rivals about games being played. So it behooves developers to include social networking functionality into their sports apps to maximize engagement.

When I helped build the Washington Caps Mobile App, we positioned the Twitter feed right below live game stats, knowing that fans would engage each other when games were being played. We pulled in the team’s official feeds (which included the primary team feed as well as those of our radio broadcaster and beat writer) and identified hashtags that were relevant to our team and that evening’s game. The Twitter feed was definitely one of our most frequently used features and invaluable for user retention.

There are even apps where the primary purpose is to foster social conversations about sports events. SportsYapper, launched by Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, is the most popular, but there are many others in the space, as SportTechie summarizes nicely.

3) Video

Fans crave video of their favorite teams and players. Highlights of that game-winning score excite fans to no end, and interviews with players and coaches should be used to engage fans before, after, and in-between games.

To that end, video has to load quickly and play without buffering interruptions; no one likes to see that obnoxious spinning logo. There are a few ways to ensure that videos on your app will start quickly and play smoothly:

  • Integrate a content delivery network like Amazon Cloudfront or Akamai to make sure the video data is always downloaded as quickly as possible.
  • Build the app in a way that allows it to pre-download some video assets in the background so they are available on the mobile device when the user wants to view them.
  • Because internet connectivity on a mobile phone is never guaranteed, ensure that you notify the user that this is the case so he or she knows that a bug is not the cause of the video not loading.
And of course, make sure you have all the necessary content rights from the teams and leagues; you don’t want them suing you for copyright infringement!

4) Bonus Feature: Fantasy Scores

Look at that – our first post in this series and we’re already handing out freebies!

Fantasy sports has been growing at a massive rate, so incorporating fantasy stats and scores into your app provides another high-engagement feature. Fans are constantly checking their phones for fantasy updates, and providing these stats in an easy-to-consume format is a value-add.

The New York Giants’ mobile application (developed by Yinzcam, who also helped build the Caps Mobile App) does a good job of this. Fans can add players to the app’s Fantasy Tracker to easily and quickly access fantasy scores and stats. Nicely done.

Well, there you have it, the first post in our “Ultimate Mobile App for…” series. We started with a pretty cool industry to focus on and we hope you enjoyed it. If you’ve developed a sports app or are just a sports fan, let us know in the comments if you would rank other features ahead of these. Also, feel free to recommend any other industries you’d like us to write about.

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Image courtesy of hectorir on Flickr

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