The app that talks
An app combining the forces of The Dallas Morning News SportsDay and The Ticket KTCK AM and FM sports radio recently passed 100,000 downloads. They must be doing something right.
In a field dominated by big-budget apps builders such as ESPN, Fox, CBS, Yahoo, et.al., the SportsDay TALK app has attracted a group of hard-core local sports fans. It was one of the newpaper's first digital products to turn a profit.
The app averages about 1.9 million unique entries a month, said Mark Francescutti, sports vertical editor of The Morning News. "The people who use it go crazy. They love it," he said.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is heavily into professional and college sports. It not only is home to the iconic Cowboys, but the Texas Rangers, Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars. Major universities Texas, Texas A&M, Southern Methodist, Texas Christian and Baylor play big-time sports as well.
The talk radio part of the app has been well-received. Users can listen to the station live and pause it for up to 20 minutes, a unique feature according to Francescutti. Someone stuck in traffic and listening to a lively debate can simply pause when the cell phone rings and go right back to it in a few minutes.
Teaming up with The Ticket created a comprehensive package of coverage, Francescutti wrote in a 2014 blog for www.inma.org. The Ticket provided live radio, show clips and marketing, while SportsDay contributed stories, photos, breaking news and technology development.
At that time, the app had introduced its second version, which was more stable and worked on new devices, smartphones and operating systems. Version 3 should be released later this year.
Of those who downloaded the app, 52.2 percent are considered active users. "That is really, really good," Francescutti said. "Most apps are between 10 and 15 percent."
The median number of sessions by one user per month rose to 21.4 in 2015.
The app is free, and advertising sustains the project, Francescutti said. It attracts advertisers who want a specific demographic and local reach. He considers SportsDay TALK users a "more intense" if smaller audience than visitors to the paper's website.
But before publishers rush into the specialty app business, they need to consider the drawbacks, which are cost and constantly changing technology.
First, third-party app developers are expensive. New versions run to five figures and regular service is three figures an hour, Francescutti said.
Second, SportsDay TALK can't be tweaked here and there by someone on staff who knows how operate a website.
"The biggest challenge is just keeping up with everybody's phone, everybody's operating system."
Android and Apple put out new operating systems every year, and last year the app developer had to put out an emergency update just for the Samsung Note 5. It's a game of constant catch-up, Francescutti said.
Potential builders should answer the question of what their app will do that other apps and websites don't, he advised in the INMA article. And a marketing campaign must accompany the release or people won't know about it and download it.
In hindsight, Francescutti recommends testing an app on many different types of phones and devices before release. The app also should have a help/feedback section, so the owners learn about problems and head off bad reviews.
SportsDay also should have done consumer testing ahead of release, even if it was nothing more than standing outside Cowboys Stadium and asking people to try it, he said.
SportsDay TALK is part of a strategy of providing multiple advertising vehicles, Francescutti said.
"Advertisers are buying in so many different ways that the best way for us is to have a variety of products, so that we have something that suits each one's needs."
For Apple, download the app at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sportsday-talk-w-1310-ticket/id655078306?mt=8. For Android, go to https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.dallasnews.sportsdaytalk&hl=en.
For more information, email Mark Francescutti at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at email@example.com. Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.