Will mobile SportsCenter become the go-to stadium app for fans?

New version of ESPN SportsCenter app

New version of SportsCenter app

Now that ESPN’s mobile viewership has overtaken web readers, the worldwide leader in sports is ready to put its most iconic brand — SportsCenter — onto its main highlights mobile app. Our question: Can that app now become the go-to app for fans in stadiums who want to track activities at games they’re not at?

With today’s news that the old “ScoreCenter” app is now being called simply “SportsCenter,” ESPN seems to be going all in with its mobile strategy, which was already aggressive in the past. The main holdout was the ScoreCenter app, which while it conveyed a lot of information (mainly scores and headline links) the very fact that it was called something other than SportsCenter — the name for the network’s mainstay highlights show — seemed to signify that ScoreCenter wasn’t a full and complete offering.

Ryan Spoon, ESPN’s SVP for digital media, was part of a panel I moderated last week at the Open Mobile Summit, where he told attendees that this fall, for the first time, ESPN’s mobile traffic surpassed web traffic, a trend we’ve seen happen for other sports properties. In an interview with GigaOM Spoon said the new SportsCenter app is meant to be “a very strong relative of the TV show,” and our initial download shows a stream of tweets from ESPN personalities along with the kind of news updates you might get while watching an episode of SportsCenter on TV.

Old 'ScoreCenter' app scores page view

Old ‘ScoreCenter’ app scores page

What will be interesting to see is if the mobile version of SportsCenter can become the go-to app for fans sitting in stadiums, since it’s a good guarantee that most of them go home and watch SportsCenter after the game, or on any other day in their life. With fantasy football fans and regular fans who just want to keep abreast of other games and other sports, SportsCenter is usually the starting place for highlights and news.

The real challenge as I see it in the stadium-fan space will be whether or not ESPN is able to provide real-time or at least close to real time replays and highlights, or whether teams and leagues will keep those away from mobile versions of SportsCenter so that their own apps have more pull. One of my biggest beefs with ESPN and online video is that it often puts videos of ESPN commentary inside stories instead of highlight videos, with misleading or unclear labeling that sometimes forces you to watch way more of Lou Holtz babbling than you ever wanted to. But if ESPN can deliver timely highlights to its app the same way it gets them on SportsCenter, other stadium apps might never be able to catch up.

Old ScoreCenter headlines page.

Old ScoreCenter headlines page.

New 'Now' page with Twitter feeds

New ‘Now’ page with Twitter feeds

Better TV info should help with college games

Better TV info should help with college games

Reds’ 2B Surges on Twitter, Asks for Extension

Picture of Brandon Phillips from his Twitter account

Brandon Phillips' photo from his @DatDudeBP Twitter account

He’s arrogant, famously calling the St. Louis Cardinals a bunch of “little bitches,” but Brandon Phillips is quickly establishing himself as Major League Baseball’s must-follow athlete on Twitter. Is it a tactic to get the Cincinnati Reds to grant him a rich extension, or trade him to a major market team that can pay him big coin?  

Phillips’ Twitter followers surging

Phillips’ followers surged from just over 50,000 to 65,000 in the three days ending June 19, after an ESPN.com story about the Cincinnati Reds second baseman’s use of Twitter to improve his image. Phillips tweets as @DatDudeBP, and is a Mobile Sports Report recommended athlete to follow.

Twitter as negotiating tactic? 

Favorable accounts of Phillips’ Twitter use comes at an auspicious time for the all-star second baseman. Days after the ESPN.com story broke, Phillips asked the Reds to negotiate a contract extension, according to an NBC Sports report.

Phillips told ESPN he will keep clubhouse talk off his Twitter account, but the timing of the ESPN story closely followed by a demand for a contract extension proves that he knows a large and favorable fan base will improve his chances of becoming one of baseball’s highest-paid athletes. Phillips has a $12 million team option for 2012, which ESPN said the Reds may not be able to pick up. Major League Baseball’s trading deadline is July 31.

Even if Phillips doesn’t start sending pay-me-or-trade-me tweets, the day is soon approaching when high-stakes contract negotiations become a part of an athlete’s online repertoire, and something fans will want to follow on smartphones and iPads.   

“The Ochocinco of baseball”

According to Phillips, Twitter is part of a more benign strategy. Twitter gives fans a chance to get to know him better, he told ESPN.

Phillips tweets occasional contests, which in the past have awarded fans spring training visits, dinner, and trips to San Francisco. According to ESPN, Phillips’ use of Twitter may have contributed to improved clubhouse maturity and leadership in 2011.

In addition to famously slurring the St. Louis Cardinals, which caused bench-clearing brawls the next time the two teams met, Phillips has been a controversial player in his seven-year major league career for failing to run out balls to first, laughing and joking when his team has trailed and other on-field lapses.

Phillips acknowledged that he’s after the celebrity athletes can get by being wired to their fans, including another famous Cincinnati pro.

“I want to be the Ochocinco of baseball,” Phillips told ESPN. Of course, Phillips was referring to the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who once threatened to be the first player to produce in-game tweets and has attracted greater than 2.13 million followers to his @ochocinco account.