mobile apps

Squandered Opportunities: Mobile Apps not a home run

Like a top draft choice, sports teams’ mobile apps show lots of promise. But by leaving money on the touchscreen, they are falling short of the goal line.

The future of commerce has already arrived, and it’s mobile.

Too impatient to shop from a computer, consumers increasingly utilize mobile commerce to shop on the go. Want it? Usually, there is indeed an app to help you buy it.

As forward-thinking and digitally savvy as many sports properties can be (Manchester City, New Jersey Devils and San Francisco Giants come quickly to mind), you would think their smartphone apps would not only be torrents of information, but also digital hubs of commerce.

Not so fast, sports fans!

While at a National Hockey League preseason game in the fall, I realized I would probably attend several of one team’s games this season. So I scrolled through the team’s app I was using to follow the game, thinking I was just a few taps away from owning my gazillionth team cap that would keep me from going to future games unadorned.

I was wrong. Penalty flag.

Despite my momentary fervor to add about $25 to the $42 billion in annual sporting goods revenue, the team’s app had no point of sale to satisfy my spontaneous craving for a team hat. Dismayed, I opened two other NHL team apps that were already on my phone, as well as the NHL’s league app. While the league’s app had amerchandise point of sale, one team app sold merchandise but the other did not.

Stunned, I opened the three National Football League team apps on my phone to find none of them had merchandise points of sale. Now shocked and morbidly curious, I opened the seven intercollegiate team apps on my phone to see how many of them sold merchandise there.

Another goose egg for my scoreboard.

The irony that spurred my frustration most was that the apps readily offered game tickets for sale. If they sell tickets, why don’t they also sell merchandise?

By now, I’d lost all desire to buy a cap, because the thought of all the lost revenue began to nauseate me. However, I knew I must explore this phenomenon further. A couple of bottles of Pepto Bismol later, here’s what I found for the three major American sports leagues that permit individual team apps.

Of the 30 National Basketball Association (NBA) team apps, only 16 teams (53.3 percent) even offered official apps. All 16 apps sold tickets, but only eight (26.7 percent) sold merchandise.

The news was a little better in the NHL. All 30 teams offered official apps, and 28 of them offered tickets (93.3 percent), but only 12 offered merchandise (40 percent). Incredibly, two team apps offered neither tickets nor merchandise.

NFL franchises fared the best of the three leagues. All 30 NFL teams offered official apps, and 27 apps (84.4 percent) offered merchandise, while 28 apps (87.5 percent) offered tickets. Every team app offered either tickets or merchandise, and 24 (75 percent) offered both.

However, far too often, points of sale for tickets, merchandise or both were more than one tap away—too far for today’s hyperactive consumers.

In case you’re wondering about Major League Baseball (MLB), as part of what’s widely acknowledged as the most forward-thinking digital league strategy in sports, MLB does not permit individual franchises to offer their own apps, instead offering individual team interfaces under the league’s comprehensive app (which prominently offers merchandise points of sale under each team’s interface!).

In analyzing this phenomenon, the immediate problem of large chunks of lost revenue is readily apparent. Far worse, however, is that it symptomatically points to a larger, much more severe problem: a clear lack of sound digital strategy for too many sports properties, specifically regarding mobile tactics.

In addition to tickets and team merchandise, think of the many ways in which apps can (and should) be utilized by sports properties to generate revenue and/or provide added value for sponsors.

Just for starters:

  • Join fan/booster/kids clubs
  • Donate (cause/fund/charity, etc.)
  • Join all forms of social media
  • Opt-in to receive text messages
  • Join email newsletter list
  • Download team-related music or videos
  • Join social communities (chat rooms, etc.)
  • Ask questions
  • Receive customer service

Though all of these items may not directly generate revenue, if properly executed, they are all great opportunities to add value for properties’ sponsors.

Sports didn’t become an estimated $620 billion global industry in 2011 with fans sitting on their wallets. In fact, today’s sports fans quite literally line up to throw money at sports properties. Why properties wouldn’t be poised to collect it at every possible juncture is beyond me.

So sports properties, please be clear: If your app is just a collective portal for your press releases, videos, social media and ticket office, you’re leaving big money on the touchscreen.

And that’s about as smart as a hockey puck.

Editor’s note: Benjamin D. Goss, Ph. D., serves as an associate professor in Stetson University’s sport business program in the Department of Marketing. As a researcher, Goss investigates Sportarchy, a term he coined to encompass these three dimensions: the empowerment of postmodern sports fans, the breakdown of the invisible wall between fans and the games, and the evolution of sport business practices as a result.