Geolocation apps are the latest craze in social media in the sports industry. Just last month, the National Hockey League launched its own official Foursquare branding page. Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the National Basketball Association is developing its own geolocation application for the iPhone and Android smartphones. “Turnstile,” the NBA’s app, will allow fans to check in at NBA arenas and while watching NBA games on television this season. It is expected to be released later this month.
While the NHL and NBA have embraced geolocation apps like Foursquare and Gowalla, the National Football League and its teams have yet to join the geolocation frenzy. Indeed, the Washington Redskins are the only NFL team with an official Foursquare page and badge.
Here are five tips that NFL teams can use as they embrace the mobile geolocation frenzy currently sweeping the sports industry.
1. Embrace the medium with an official application
Currently only three NFL teams have official iPhone applications–the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers–and all three were made by the same iPhone app developer, YinzCam, Inc. These applications give fans statistics and information on the home team’s latest game as well as other scores from around the league.
The YinzCam apps really shine on NFL game days, however. Fans at the stadium on game days can watch live football on the NFL Network’s wildly popular RedZone Channel or television replays of the game in progress in front of them as well as scoring updates and news from around the NFL.
The current crop of official NFL applications do two things: they offer official information and statistics to all fans and they engage fans in attendance at the stadium on game days. Expect these two features to be in every official NFL application.
2. Use Foursquare and Gowalla to engage fans at the stadium on game days
Sports teams already understand that Twitter allows them to take a pulse of their fans on game days. Geolocation apps like Foursquare and Twitter allow teams to monitor what fans in attendance are saying on game days. Teams can also reward fans for checking in at the stadium (or other official, team sponsored venues) on game days. While some fans may jump at the chance to add an official team badge to their Foursquare collection, others may be more interested in exclusive deals offered to them through a team’s official Foursquare or Gowalla page.
3. Offers fans exclusive deals through geolocation and mobile apps
Teams and athletes are already using official apps to represent their brands. Soon every team will have an official iPhone, iPad or Android app. As official apps become ubiquitous, teams will find new ways to strengthen their relationship with fans. One way is to feature popular players via mobile apps. An executive at one NFL team told me that he expects teams will soon offer fans exclusive deals on their favorite player’s jersey on game days. Creating a special offer for users of a team’s mobile application creates a feeling of exclusivity–as though the fan is being given access to a special club with the mobile app. This only strengthens a fan’s loyalty to his favorite team.
4. Sell, Sell, Sell
Sales is the single most important element of any sports organization and drives success in the sports industry. While some teams have official apps already, few if any offer the ability to purchase tickets and team merchandise directly from the app itself.
Wouldn’t it be great if a fan could purchase tickets to a team’s next home game right from their smartphone? How about ordering a t-shirt from the team’s app when it’s sold out at the official team store? How about ordering tickets and picking them up on your way out after the game? All are possibilities for team apps that sell tickets and merchandise directly to fans.
In the end, an app that sells is really about convenience. Fans don’t need to order tickets by calling the box office, they can do so from the comfort of their couch or seat at the arena or stadium. While app sales won’t overtake traditional sales any time soon, these convenient sales do represent.
5. Give fans one thing they can’t get elsewhere
A team’s official mobile application should be a complimentary but separate entity from its official website and social media presence. To that end, an official app should offer some feature–some draw–that attracts fans in a unique way. This “one special thing” can be access to exclusive promotions or behind-the-scenes videos or anything that will encourage fans to try the official app on their smartphones. An official app is just an extension of a team’s brand so why not use it to engage fans?