Here’s why NBC Sports built a soccer fan social networking app

If you’re a soccer fan in America, life is hard. The best players for the sport you love live overseas. Most U.S. citizens only care about the game once every four years, when it’s time for the World Cup. It almost makes you wish you had sworn your allegiance to baseball or basketball.

NBC Sports feels your pain and it’s trying to solve your solitude problem with an app. Soccer lovers can download NBC Sports MatchMaker, an iOS and Android app, to find fellow fans. You can also tell people where you’re watching the game, if you’re out at a public place, so other fans can join you.

When you log in you are prompted to pick your favorite teams from the Premier League. The app then sets up you accordingly. “Being that in the U.S. there are no ‘home teams’ for this league, it helps fans who support a certain team find a place to all congregate, or to find the bar that aligns itself with a specific team,” an NBC Sports spokesperson told me.

The app has five tabs: Map, Alerts, Matches, Meetups, and News. The map shows you any sports fans who have posted the location where they’re watching the game, like a local bar. The alerts tab lets you know when someone has invited you to a meetup or reminds you when your team’s game is starting. Matches shows you the list of dates, times and competitors for your team’s upcoming games. Meetups gives you a list of all the sports watching events you’ve RSVPed for and shows you who else is invited.

The tab that’s perhaps most compelling from a media perspective is the fifth — News. It gives you a feed of NBC Sports News snippets that you can click through to read the full article.


Three screens from the NBC Sports Matchmaker app. Left: News ; Middle: Game matches ; Right: Meetup map

In other words, NBC Sports has basically built a social networking app for its viewers that serves as another place to feed them NBC’s content. The sports fan matchmaking part doesn’t necessarily benefit NBC, but it holds people’s eyeballs. It’s a brand building product for the company, an engagement tool and perhaps a revenue source in the future.

Publications have learned the hard way what it means when [company]Facebook[/company] is your traffic overlord. When people find your stories through another company’s application, you’re at the mercy of said application’s whims. So if Facebook changes its news feed algorithm, your content’s performance may plummet. Listicles and slideshows have the most potential to go viral, so theyrise to the top of the feed.

IMG_3085In the digital journalism and TV cord-cutting age, news organizations have to find creative new ways to deliver information and keep people’s attention. Building a social networking app for readers may not intuitively match a media company’s mission, but it offers some eyeballs.

Of course, that’s only if it convinces enough people to use the app. Social networking sites are only as strong as their audiences. NBC Sports might need to market its app on its media properties to kickstart the crowds, because at the moment it looks empty.