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Apple Seemingly Pursuing ‘Holy Grail’ of Last Mile Transaction with New Sports App

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Apple Seemingly Pursuing ‘Holy Grail’ of Last Mile Transaction with New Sports App

The recently released Apple Sports app has earned a lot of media attention for a product that offers live scores, stats, and betting odds–some of the most highly commoditized sports content. 

The tech giant hopes delivering basic information faster than the competition, inside a user-friendly interface, will fill a hole in the marketplace and make its platform and devices stickier in the process. 

Think of the sports-focused app as being “complimentary to iMessage [and Apple Weather] in that it makes [Apple] an even more useful communication portal and improves the experience of, [and time spent using], company products,” content analyst Dan Shanoff said. 

But indications suggest Apple may also be laying the groundwork for what can become a robust top-of-the-funnel gateway to Apple TV.

“The end goal, or at least the 2.0 version hiding in plain sight, is the ‘Open Apple TV’ button. If they want you to do anything [inside the app], it’s press that button,” Shanoff said. “So, [Apple is] solving for the very immediate problem of what’s the score, and [then] the next step is getting the fan to [Apple TV to] watch and go down the engagement funnel with them.”


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Many industry observers have shrugged at the announcement. And in fairness to them, it doesn’t compare to one of Apple’s highly anticipated hardware releases. 

But those individuals may also be failing to see the forest for the trees. 

“People use [Apple] for a zillion things in their day-to-day lives, seeking out sports scores included,” Shanoff said. “The fact that [it] wants to enter this space and compete with the media companies is [significant].”

A new entrant launching a scores-focused app typically wouldn’t have much of a chance considering the establishment (think: ESPN, Bleacher Report, Yahoo Sports etc.) and product’s zero-sum nature.

But Apple controls the platform.

The company’s “marketing power, and [the] affinity users have for it, can drive the app to No. 1 in the App Store, and [Apple can] ultimately integrate [the app] into iOS in ways another company might not be able to,” Shanoff said.

Apple’s decision to launch a sports app seems sound enough. Offering a ‘better’ product can only enhance a fan’s loyalty to the brand and its products. 

As does its choice to focus on scores out of the gate.

“Going back 30 years, scoreboard pages outperform everything in digital sports,” Shanoff said. “The addressable market for [the product] is enormous.”

There probably won’t be a ton of money made in delivering the same commodity as everyone else. 

“But Apple is in a position where it doesn’t necessarily have to worry about doing anything except delighting its audience,” Shanoff said. 

And Apple’s senior vice president of Services Eddy Cue believes there is a demo that just wants the score of the game. 

“Simple [and accurate] is a completely fair and a clear-eyed view of what Apple Sports’ value proposition can be relative to some of the other players out there with lots of other things in their apps,” Shanoff said (think: original content, fantasy, gambling, and live games). 

Cue is convinced the audience wants the information fast. He touted the speed at which Apple can deliver data in an interview with Sportico.   

“It’s faster loading and there is less latency than on the other [scoreboard] apps,” Shanoff confirmed. 

But while a noteworthy engineering accomplishment, it misses the point–at least if Apple Sports intends to be a second screen experience.

“Faster does not necessarily sync with, not to use a pun, the timing of how we’re all consuming [sports],” Shanoff said. 

If the scores in Apple Sports’ app are ahead of the game on the first screen, fans are going to avoid the copilot while watching. 

And remember, real-time is different for everyone. So, the North Star shouldn’t be eliminating as much latency as possible across the entire system but trying to sync the product to the individual user’s viewing experience (see: edge computing time).

Hyper real-time updates are more valuable for the in-game sports bettor, and for the fan using the app as a first screen. If you’re not watching the game, having the fastest access to scores and statistics is the next best option.

“In that vein, Apple Sports is like the weather app,” Shanoff said. “It is information [designed for] when your phone is your primary screen.”

Apple intends to measure the app’s success based on downloads and the number of times fans open it, not the amount of time they’re engaging with it–which makes sense. Getting a score update should take just a matter of seconds. 

Apple “wants you to open the sports app [often] because it makes the company that much more valuable to your life,” Shanoff said.

It’s not clear what Apple’s ultimate aspirations are in sports media. The company hasn’t been forthcoming with them. 

But the ‘Open Apple TV’ button looks to be a clue. 

“They [are seemingly trying] to drive fans [from the scoreboard] into the Apple TV environment to watch the game,” Shanoff said.

Presumably, some of those individuals will subscribe for the service (if not already subscribed).

“They want people to engage with the Apple TV platform, and it seems as if they particularly want sports fans to engage with the service,” Shanoff said. “That’s why they made the investment in MLS.”

Apple isn’t the first company to go after “this holy grail of a last mile transaction that brings a live sports consumer to the game itself,” Shanoff noted (see: ESPN app, the NBA app, Buzzer, SportsBubble). 

However, it is particularly well-positioned to deliver a seamless connection because it can pass consumers through Apple TV. 

For all Apple did right with the app, it feels like the offering is missing a critical piece of information: the channel or platform the games are airing on.

“While I appreciate that they would love for [the user] to be streaming through Apple TV, the reality is [they] may be on a Roku device [or another platform] and that’s okay,” Shanoff said. Apple “would still be providing a valuable function.”

Perhaps down the line that individual becomes an Apple TV subscriber because the app has made being a sports fan easier for them. 

While the Apple Sports app is unlikely to move the revenue needle for a company that took in $119.6 billion last quarter, it should provide the company with regular opportunities to promote its exclusive sports content library (see: MLS).

It’s also another asset for the company to sell or partner on (see: DraftKings tie-up).  

Shanoff suggested there could potentially be integrations with Apple Vision Pro down the line too.

“Remember, when [the headset] came out a few weeks ago, the sports use-cases were dominant,” Shanoff said. “The idea is to have a built-in, Apple-native way [for fans] to sift through scores and get a game launched. You can see how [the new app] fits [into that vision].”

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