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Feb. 12, 2015, 12:28 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

The upset alert in your pocket: USA Today’s new sports app wants to help cure your fear of missing out

Like Breaking News or Yo, it’s an app where the push notifications are the main appeal.

FOMO — fear of missing out — can reach manic levels when it comes to sports. Maybe it’s seeing your Twitter feed overrun with context-free tweets that simply say “Wow” or “OH MY GOD.” Worse is that single line text from a friend (or friends): “You seeing this?” That’s when the dread rises. What is it you’re missing? How did you allow this to happen? How much shame should you be feeling, and can it wait until after you find the nearest TV?

This is what USA Today Sports’ eponymous new app, out today, is designed for — those “oh god what is everyone talking about and how quickly can I catch up” moments. The new app eschews a broader view of sports coverage in favor of focusing in on a constantly changing collection of headlines and live games you need to be watching in the moment. So the next time Klay Thompson drops a record-setting (and jaw-dropping) 37 points in a quarter, you won’t feel like you’ve been left behind.

The app has a lot of what you’d expect from a sports news app. It breaks down into two main categories, news and scores, each allowing users to drill down into individual sports news as well as scores and stats from your favorite teams. Its design favors brief bites of news, with cards displaying around 15 stories trending at the moment. The “Best. Scoreboard. Ever.” uses a similar card scheme in ranking the top games of the day, providing previews with times, networks, and, naturally, the point spread. Over the course of the day, and into an evening of games, both the news and the scoreboard are constantly shifting; that matchup between the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors might get superseded by an unexpected close game.

That ties into what could be the most useful feature of the the app: the notifications. Based on the success of the popular @SportsPSA Twitter feed, USA Today’s app limits its notifications to alerts that more or less say “GET TO A TV RIGHT NOW.”

This is FOMO-as-editorial-strategy, designed specifically to prey on the worries of the sports-obsessed. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no shortage of live sports options on linear TV as well as digital options streaming online and on our phones. The problem now isn’t getting games — it’s knowing which ones to watch. That’s what has helped give rise to things like NFL Redzone or even the short-lived Replay Last Goal Twitter bot.

“We’re trying to solve a basic problem all busy sports fans have: How do I know what I need to know right now?” said Mark Pesavento, vice president of USA Today’s Sports Media Group. Their goal was to create an app that served a need instead of acting as just another container for content from USA Today, he said. “We think it’s a public service for sports fans, to help them make educated decisions about how they spend their sports time,” he said.

They hope that kind of focus will also differentiate the USA Today Sports app from expanding universe of sports apps available now, said Krys Krycinski, head of mobile for USA Today Sports Media Group. There are general news apps, fantasy sports apps, stat trackers, and apps tied to specific teams and leagues. Krycinski said they realize most sports fans rely on a handful of apps to meet their needs, so they tried to make their product complementary in a way. “We think there’s room for another app on users screens, one that fills a niche that has not been filled yet,” he said.

USAToday_screenshot2They also wanted to make something that was inherently mobile, not an app designed to recreate a desktop or web experience within an app. On the editorial side, they decided to limit the types of stories and content within the app: The stories are aggregated from USA Today’s array of sports properties, but you likely won’t find long profiles or in-depth analysis (though you might find links to them). On the tech side, they wanted to give the team behind the app flexibility in how stories are presented, so they have a content management system specifically for the app, Krycinski said. The individual cards can have quotes, GIFs, photo slides, or links to stories from places like USA Today Sports, FTW, or The Big Lead.

If the app mimics those sites, or the @SportsPSA feed, it’s intentional. For instance, lessons from the @SportsPSA feed were used to develop notification guidelines for the app, said Tim Gardner, director of digital programming for the sports media group. Gardner oversees the editorial team for the app, which includes eight producers working almost around the clock. The goal is to be mindful of users and balance the need to stay on top of games without becoming a nuisance. Some nights that might be easier than others, depending on the schedule. But the expectation is that sports fans are going to want to know if something incredible is happening. “If it’s Old Dominion and George Mason and they’re heading to double overtime, we’re going to alert you on that as well,” he said.

While the app allows users to dig into more granular information, the goal is to keep the news and scoreboard updated, but also manageable. “We’re all sports fans at heart. And if something’s piquing our interest, we like to think our users would find it interesting as well,” Gardner said.

Photo of Russell Westbrook and J.R. Smith by Eric Drost used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Feb. 12, 2015, 12:28 p.m.
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