This article was published on July 8, 2010

How sporting events and iPhone apps are transforming the game.

How sporting events and iPhone apps are transforming the game.

Believe it or not, the World Cup is not the only major sports event happening this summer. There’s a host of summer regulars which have recently made their appearance in the App Store, enough to make us sit up and label it a trend.

The Tour de France, Wimbledon and The Open have all posted “official” apps for fans. Quick to pick up on a trend, I decided to have a look at these apps and determine what makes, or breaks, an app for your major sports event.

Note: As The Open only tees off next week, there are fewer screenshots and they’re a bit light on data. That’s okay, we can get a sense of what the app offers.

The basics

There are a few things which every app needs to have. Not all the apps have all the features detailed below, the screenshots largely demonstrate where they are available.

Latest results
Who’s where? It’s the bread and butter of sports events and all apps offer it.

The Tour de France app goes one better than just making the latest standings available. It shows live positions of cyclists on the road (including breakaways and the peleton) and demonstrates the time gaps against a stage profile.

This is an inspired move demonstrating that the organisers have considered how to capture the real excitement of something which is unique to the event on the mobile platform. As an additional benefit, it also puts the route map in the fan’s pocket which is great if you’re planning on spectating live.

An event schedule
Needless to say, a must have. A stage calendar for the Tour, a great view of the draw for Wimbledon and tee off times for the The Open.

The Tour’s stage calendar is a great visualisation because it also shows the route profile for each stage.

The news
Not much to say here really.

We all like a bit of eye candy.

Not so long ago, video in your pocket was considered futuristic. All 3 apps provide video coverage, including a promise of streamed live coverage for The Open.

A bit of Twitter
Twitter content is free to use live content so it would be daft not to include it. It makes the app more interesting and engages users. The Tour de France app displays a consolidated timeline of tweets from a host of relevant Twitter accounts. The Wimbledon app also includes a list of Twitter accounts of interest but accessing them one-by-one makes it a bit cumbersome.

In both cases, it would be a good idea to make the selections available as lists via official Twitter accounts.

The gladiatorial roll call
Competitors make the events, so a list of competitors is a must have. A short athlete bio is also available on the Tour de France and Wimbledon apps. The Tour and The Open apps include the ability to “favourite” participants of particular interest, making it easier to follow them through the event.

Selecting favourites is demonstrated above for both apps although as The Open is not yet under way, it’s not clear how selected competitors are highlighted during the event.

Enriching the spectator experience
The Tour de France app includes route profiles and, as we showed earlier, stage maps (with live tracking). The Wimbledon app has a map of the venue and seating charts. The Open’s app gives details on all the holes.

What makes it special?

A few features which set some of the apps apart from the crowd.

Live updates
The Tour de France app pushes live updates to your device. You can choose updates based on specific events or choose to follow riders of interest. I activated these although, for some reason, I only received alerts on day one.

Engaging the fans
The transmedia fans will like Wimbledon’s excellent idea of letting users submit questions to Radio Wimbledon. It’s not clear how feedback is provided on submissions, if at all.

[Update 10/7] Augmented reality
Twitter user @siclark pointed out to us that the LTA (who govern Wimbledon) have also published an augmented reality application, IBM Seer. The app uses AR to enhance your experience attending Wimbledon, allowing you to see points of interest and associated information around the Wimbledon site. It also includes live video and access to Radio Wimbledon.

As Wimbledon has long since finished, and I live nowhere near SW14, I wasn’t able to get any meaningful screenshots of the AR in action, but the POI list will give you an idea of what’s available.

What’s been left out?

There are a few opportunities which no app exploited. In all cases think the social aspects are a bit poor.

  • At the time of the Vancouver Olympics, we suggested that apps could be an opportunity for events to collect and share fan generated content.
  • Allow users to connect the app to their Facebook accounts and comment on news stories, events, etc. Comments will then appear in Facebook and drive traffic back to the events. Same for Twitter.
  • Create fan to fan engagement. I remember playing with an app some months ago where the app setup chat rooms between fans for football games across the major European leagues. These apps should be doing this to allow fans to engage other fans.
  • Twitter streams which include keyword sourced content. When we looked at mobile apps in advance of UK’s elections, one thing we liked about UKIP’s app was that its Twitter displayed showed all tweets based on some relevant keywords (e.g. #ukip, #election, etc.). Sports events should be looking to do the same.

I’m also surprised there’s no shopping. All these events have significant merchandising operations and users of an app are already a captive audience. Put a store in the app, or at least link through to a mobile friendly web based store.

It’s worth noting that I’ve had a few teething problems with the Tour de France app. Slow data updates, inconsistent sending of alerts and the like. These seem to have been ironed out with updates in the past day or so, but its a pity the app wasn’t stable from the first day of the race. The company that runs the Tour also runs a number of other major sports events so hopefully this is a platform for future developments.

What about the World Cup?

Well, there’s lots of World Cup apps but nothing from FIFA. Some might say, if you’re not in the app store then you don’t exist. Don’t tell the Spanish or the Dutch though.

Updated 10/07 to include reference to IBM Seer.