ESPN App Delivers What It Says

ESPN’s long awaited mainstream sports iPhone debut (they previously released some ancillary apps) is the simplest, most elegant app for sports scores to date. But don’t expect any bells and whistles with the aptly named Scorecenter – it’s all about the games.

Setup is a bit clunky, as it just pops you directly into a page with scores for one sport lacking direction on how to customize it, or find scores for other sports. After some fishing around, I was able to login with my ESPN.com profile to import my settings. The setup also allows users to pick the sports they want to display scores for, though it requires a separate process to select each sport. One step with the option to pick multiple sports would expedite the setup. ESPN should consider putting the user directly into setup mode upon initial launch to reduce the learning curve and improve usability.

The bottom line is a nice touch, with the scrolling news feed similar to what you’re accustomed to on the network. The app integrates ESPN mobile platform, allowing users to launch the Gamecast application with two clicks from the main scoreboard page. Gamecast launches via ESPN Mobile Web in a microbrowser within the app, making for a streamlined, full-featured experience.

Another important component – ESPN is monetizing the app with a sponsorship from Lexus. The luxury car dealer, a good advertising choice given the high income, working professional demographic of smart-phone users, has a featured spot on the splash page when the app launches and gets a banner ad at the bottom of each page in the app with a link for more info. It’s probably the best ESPN can do without cluttering the page with ads, which in the long-run likely devalues the inventory anyway. Its not information they can justify charging for, since scores are a commodity and given the small amount of inventory, the single sponsor model is probably the biggest value ad for both brand and publisher.

However, given ESPN’s strong entry into the market, they have an opportunity to introduce a number of paid download applications with the glut of premium content they can churn out. The key to a sustainable monetization strategy in the app market is to produce apps that have short shelf lives. Instead of a general baseball app with insider insight or direct access to chat with insiders daily, make a baseball app for the 2009 season. Better yet, in line with the micro content strategy, build an app specifically around the trade deadline, the pennant chase, the playoff run, and so on. Once a solid development template is in place, churning out new features and filling it with interactive, premium content should be the easy for the Kings of Sports Media.

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