Dallas Morning News sports app offers differentiation within market

By Mark Francescutti

We want to build an app!”

That was the proclamation from editors of SportsDay — the sports staff of The Dallas Morning News — before we began a year-long process of building SportsDay TALK.

SportsDay TALK became one of the first digital products at the Morning News to turn a profit despite the roadblocks most newspapers face.

There were many downsides to building a sports app.

ESPN, Fox, CBS, and Yahoo already had great apps. SportsDay didn't know much about making them.

Those companies had spent millions making them stylish and bug free. SportsDay didn’t have six figures.

They had big-budget marketing campaigns with huge national reach. SportsDay is local.

The Morning News already had a smartphone app with sports stories and photos on it. The app was simple and not very popular. In order to succeed, SportsDay had to do something different.

Sports is about teamwork. To defeat the bigger opponents, we had to double-team them. So SportsDay teamed up with the No. 1 sports radio station in the market, The Ticket KTCK-AM (1310; 96.7 FM), to provide a two-pronged experience for sports fans.

SportsDay provided stories, photos, breaking news, and technological development. The Ticket provided its live feed, clips of shows, and a strong marketing push.

The comprehensive package of features was something no other app had.

But SportsDay took one more step.

SportsDay worked with a developer to add a pause and buffer option for as many as 20 minutes. Now you could pause your live radio feed and resume whenever you wanted. Effectively, we found our differentiation in a killer feature that no competitor had.

SportsDay Talk is close to 100,000 downloads on Apple and Android phones and recently released a second version.

Some other stats about the app:

  • 64% who downloaded app are active users (average apps are 10% to 15%).

  • 40% of users use it 20 times a month.

  • 16.3: the median number of sessions per month for a SportsDay TALK user.

  • 2.5: the national average of sessions per month for a sports app.

For those trying to enter the application marketplace, SportsDay learned some key lessons:

  • Apps are more about engagement than mass amounts of users. Their strengths are in utility, personalisation, and customisation. Plus, the ability to send push notifications.

  • The biggest challenge to apps is getting people to download it. If the company or companies can’t spend the money marketing the app, it might fail.

  • The biggest question you should answer before building an app: What does it uniquely do that a mobile Web site or another app doesnt?

  • Without the partnership, the app would have likely failed. It was the combined efforts of both companies that made it a success.

  • Beta testing on numerous phones and software is a must. Its very difficult to make a smartphone application that works perfectly on every device out there. With operating systems and phones constantly evolving, we had to spend months trying to make it as compatible with as many devices as possible.

  • Consumer testing is something SportsDay didnt do that it should have. Even if the test was standing outside Cowboys Stadium asking people questions or trying an app before spending tens of thousands in development costs.

  • Put a feedback section in your app. We received so much help figuring out problems and preempting folks giving bad reviews by adding a help/feedback section.

  • Put everything you want in writing. When selecting an application developer, be as thorough and detailed as possible. You have to ask for as much up front as you can. In SportsDays original ask to the developer, it left out many items that either SportsDay didnt think of or neglected to include.

You can download SportsDay TALK for iPhone here or Android here

About Mark Francescutti

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