High Definition SportsCenter Graphic - 2004

When it comes to sports content, there’s ESPN and there’s everyone else. The company’s flagship TV show, SportsCenter, is so ubiquitous that the casual consumer can probably sing its theme music – DaDaDa, DaDaDa – even if they’re not a major sports fan. And unlike many traditional media brands, ESPN has been able to translate much of its market leadership from offline to online.

But when it comes to mobile, the company has faced many of the same challenges as its competitors, namely how to effectively shoehorn a large screen, lean-back experience into an on on-the-go product. To date, the company has separated its offering into its ScoreCenter (scores), WatchESPN (live video), ESPN College Football (league specific), ESPN Radio, and fantasy sports apps. What’s missing across this app portfolio is the news and analysis that ESPN is known for.

Today, the company is announcing a major update to its ScoreCenter iOS app, which already has more than 50 million downloads and has an average 4.5 stars across 232,708 ratings in the iTunes App Store. The app has been rebranded under the iconic SportsCenter franchise and received a complete redesign, including the addition of far more news and analysis.

The new SportsCenter app offers live scores, news, video highlights, in-depth analysis, and personalized alerts for things like breaking news, kickoffs, scoring plays, substitutions, and final whistles. Users can select their favorite leagues and teams to follow those more closely, while still keeping an eye on the broader sports landscape. The app also features deep Twitter integration within the app’s “Now” section, meaning fans can follow the real-time social conversation from ESPN staff and key sports personalities around the day’s news and gossip.

SportsCenter Screenshots

The SportsCenter app that ESPN released today is what most people expected from the company several years ago. While it took them a while to get to this point, SportsCenter is instantly among the best apps in the category.

As I wrote recently about ESPN’s mobile sports news competitor theScore, content consumption on mobile is simply different. And as eyeballs shift from TV and desktop Web to mobile, publishers too need to shift their delivery to satisfy these audiences without losing out on the essence of what users expect from them. For ESPN, this means delivering comprehensive coverage of the full sports landscape, as well as real-time analysis – but in a portable format. TheScore, on the other hand, has built its brand from the very beginning around offering short-form, snackable content that lends itself to mobile consumption. Other competitors like Bleacher Report’s Team Stream app, take a similar approach. With this update, ESPN has moved in that direction, adding more content while still improving its browsing and discovery experience and also increasing personalization.

Despite the major overhaul to its ScoreCenter app, it’s not like ESPN was doing poorly in the mobile realm. The company announced several sports category records in September, including 47.4 million unique users of ESPN mobile properties for a total of 3.2 billion minutes during the month. In fact, this was the first month ever in which ESPN mobile saw more unique visitors than ESPN.com, which itself saw 46.1 million visitors during the month. Also, 36 percent of the unique visitors across all ESPN digital properties – 26.5 million out of 72.7 million people – accessed content exclusively on smartphones and tablets, and 44 percent of all consumption of ESPN digital content came via mobile device users.

Among digital publishers in the sports category, ESPN owns 30.4 percent of the audience, as measured by the average number of visitors per minute, with Yahoo! Sports coming in second at 18.6 percent and the NFL coming in third at 11.7 percent.

It’s easy to say that ESPN has an advantage over its digital competitors – be they traditional media companies or digital native properties like Bleacher Report – due simply to its brand recognition and synonymity with the sports category. And while this may be true, to a degree, ESPN has been no slouch when it comes to innovating around digital user experience.

Digital users rarely show loyalty to offline brands that don’t deliver on the online user experience front online. This is a what have you done for me lately culture, and today ESPN reminded users why they’re the sports leader, regardless of the platform or channel.