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New NFL apps smartly address evolution of digital media consumption

The NFL and its fans have already proven adept at adopting new devices and apps.

AP Photo/Microsoft, OrangeLV Holdings LLC)) ORG XMIT: NY153
AP Photo/Microsoft, OrangeLV Holdings LLC)) ORG XMIT: NY153

The NFL recently launched several new services, including new NFL Mobile and NFL Now.  These apps, along with the annual refresh of the NFL.com website, are meant to specifically address a fundamental change in the consumption of sports digital media away from text-based, computer-based websites and toward mobile apps populated with short videos.

This change, as you might expect, has been fueled by the incredible proliferation of smartphones and tablets.  Evidence of this inflection point was shown in September 2013, when for the first time Comscore reported that the number of users for ESPN’s mobile sites/apps exceeded the number of users for its traditional website.

NFL fans have already proven adept at adopting these new devices. GfK’s MultiMedia Mentor™, a measure of daily media use, showed that NFL fans in the fall of 2013 were 6 percent more likely than non-fans to use smartphone-based digital content and 12 percent more likely to use tablet-based content on any particular day.  In a more recent GfK study from June, the gap is continuing to grow: NFL fans are significantly more likely than non-fans to regularly use either a smartphone (70 percent vs. 62 percent) or a tablet (62 percent vs. 40 percent).

This transition to a mobile-centric digital world presents many opportunities as well as potential pitfalls for the NFL and other sports leagues or entities going down this road.

The benefits, of course, center around the ability to offer fans a plethora of content – visual, video, audio, interactive – on mobile devices that would have been difficult on a traditional website. The power of today’s mobile operating systems, combined with the high-speed access afforded by WiFi or 4G connections, means there is little standing in the way of delivering almost any type of content.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

But that same no-holds-barred approach can be dangerous.  Mobile devices are among the most personal items someone owns – highly customized to particular needs and wants, and woe to those who disrupt the personal relationship between a man or woman and their phone. What should leagues and publishers keep in mind?

  • Consider the form factor of the device you are delivering to, and customize the presentation and content as much as possible to the device and its OS. And remember that many users don’t update their OS, so keep it compatible with at least one earlier generation of the OS.
  • Just because you can include every piece of content your league generates doesn’t mean you should. Active curation can control clutter and provide a better user experience. The NFL’s roster of apps addresses this in part by providing specific apps for specific uses (e.g., the NFL Fantasy app specialized for fantasy football players)
  • Research the user experience (UX) so that your audience does indeed have the best experience. The most efficient way to code something may not be the best way for the audience to find its way through the content.
  • If your mobile app requires authentication of some type, make it easy and make each login last as long as possible before needing to be renewed.
  • Advertising can be targeted but, especially in phones, is reduced to a very small footprint on a very small screen. Marketers will want to see evidence of its effectiveness, and development of new executions that can maximize their ability to reach and message their target audience.

The mobile revolution – and to a larger extent the app revolution seen on all digital devices – is having an impact on all media companies, including the NFL and other sports leagues. It offers the ability to present content within an owned, fully controlled environment, rather than relying on outside distributors or rights holders – but also fully puts the responsibility for success of those initiatives in the hands of the league. The NFL is making strong inroads, but the big test will come when the regular season gets underway. The crush of users will certainly highlight any shortcomings.

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David Tice is a senior vice president at GfK, a top five global market research company. He has specialized in media- and sports-related research for 20 years. The opinions expressed are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer or his clients.

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