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Volume 21 No. 30
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To win users, sports apps designed to do it all

The average U.S. consumer uses 27 smartphone apps a month regardless of genre, according to comScore, a number that has stayed relatively static in recent years. A majority of users download either no new apps or just one each month, leaving little opportunity for developers to expand the virtual shelf space.

So to make the shortlist on fans’ phones, sports-related apps are packing more features.

MLBAM’s Arena gives NHL fans access to tickets, food and upgrades.
MLB Advanced Media’s Ballpark, for example, includes single-game ticketing and season-ticket management, wayfinding, food and beverage, content, and seat and amenity upgrades powered by Atlanta-based Experience. MLBAM, which also manages the NHL’s digital rights, has developed a similar hockey product, called Arena.

Other leagues such as the NBA have embedded more robust ticketing and in-venue elements in their primary league apps. Ticketing entities such as Ticketmaster and StubHub are similarly merging social media and other outside elements into their apps.

Perhaps most dramatically, Experience is piloting a subscription-based mobile ticketing product, InWeGo, that combines access to more than a dozen pro and college teams and events in the Atlanta area for a flat monthly fee. The service thus far has proven particularly popular with more casual fans who don’t have a history with most, if not all, of the participating teams and don’t typically have the official team apps on their phones.

“Teams are obviously recognizing that it is not just about the game now, but all the things in and around the game, and those things also need to be addressed with real products,” said Greg Foster, Experience chief executive. “Going to a game is becoming more of a create-your-own-adventure type of thing, which in turn requires a lot more flexibility and innovation.”

This notion aligns with a broader industry shift that’s developing, toward a more fluid concept of sports ticketing in which a traditional season ticket will likely be joined by a membership-based model. That model seeks to allow fans to receive ticket inventory that will change in size and location from game to game in return for their overall spending level, with the mobile phone assuming a central place in the shift.

Parallel to that, many teams and ticketing companies continue to move toward paperless ticketing systems that make a user’s phone the means of entry.

“What we see is the evolution of a new way to sell tickets, and one that’s really based primarily around the phone and the mobile experience,” said Russ D’Souza, co-founder of SeatGeek, which recently debuted its SeatGeek Open platform in collaboration with Sporting KC and Major League Soccer. SeatGeek is pulling several other ticketing and e-commerce partners such as Gametime into the effort.

Amid all the mobile innovation in sports, developers are increasingly looking outside the industry into somewhat related offerings such as music’s Spotify and movies’ Netflix for additional inspiration.

“There is a lot of energy and activity out there in the market, and we’re obviously paying attention to all of it,” Foster said. “But where we’re getting particularly excited is the broad notion of access, and that being something a fan can turn on and off at will.

“Today’s fan, particularly the younger one, is really looking for experiences, not necessarily tangible items, and what we want to do is take that Spotify model and use that to build a relationship with the fan.”

MLBAM, meanwhile, has been focused on expanding features within Ballpark such as information around non-game events at MLB ballparks and a concierge-type function that is based in part on artificial intelligence, as well as simplifying the purchase flow for mobile-based tickets.

“For us, it remains all about utility,” said Josh Frost, MLBAM vice president of product development. “It’s easy to get distracted by a shiny new thing. But for us, it still starts with functionality, and staying true to what a fan would want to make their experience at a game better.”