The Ongoing Search: What’s the Best Mobile Play-by-Play Service for Football?

NFL 2011 mobile app, showing play by play. Good clear screen, detailed info.

There’s a whole lot of folks telling you that you can keep up on football games by using your mobile phone — but how well do the services actually work? In an ongoing search that will probably last all season long, your MSR crew (meaning me) will perform random acts of mobility, following NFL and college games via mobile to see if these services deliver, or if they fall incomplete.

Monday night my dinner-making grill-master duties coincided with the Monday night tilt between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins, giving me a perfect chance to test out some of the mobile play-by-play services, like ESPN’s Gamecast, the NFL 2011 app, and Sprint (my cell phone provider’s) Sprint Football app. The early verdict says: go with NFL 2011 as your starter, ESPN as your backup, and leave Sprint Football on the bench.

Though the NFL 2011 app has a little annoying banner ad at the bottom of the screen (the ESPN and Sprint services also have banner ads), its play-by-play updates are generally more informative than ESPN’s, giving it the edge in a basically even competition. Both services suffered from an annoying lag time between play posts — which, if your screen is set to go dark to save power like mine is, means you may occasionally have to hard refresh the device to keep the app alive. I’d buy a beer for the first service to add a simple “status” banner that could tell you something like “play under review” or “game in TV timeout” so that you aren’t stupidly staring at the screen waiting for an update.

The Sprint Football app. Basically unreadable, so bench this one in favor of other services.

I ruled out the Sprint app after less than a minute — though it might be informative it suffers from a too-cute design that uses a screen shot of a football field as a backdrop, making its white type illegible when you are looking at a post that blurs into the lines of the field on the drawing. Seriously, Sprint folks — does anyone there look at these things? You can’t read it. Change it, please.

Both the ESPN and the NFL app, which have sensible, clear backgrounds, both suffered mightily to keep up with a fast, complex play — like the interception thrown by Dallas QB Tony Romo in the first quarter that ended with a fumble out-of-bounds call that needed replay review. The play by play apps were no help, basically stalling and never getting around to explaining what happened — they just both picked up with Washington running plays in Dallas territory.

ESPN's Gamecast app, not live but even this wrapup shows the clear black-on-white format that works well.

Having access to a TV set just a few steps away from the barbecue gave me the ability to see how well the online apps were keeping up — and the answer was, not well at all. Both the ESPN and the NFL apps were at least three plays behind the live action; if you watch the Internet version of Gamecast on your PC you can even see that the Twitter stream embedded in the app usually has info that is ahead of the Gamecast info. If I ran either one of these operations I would strip them back down to make sure that the play by play is as close to live as possible. Remember, fans may be using this service as a replacement for the TV announcers who annoy us all. So you’ve got to be faster than they are now.

The bottom line — neither of the top two services is satisfying if you are doing nothing but concentrating on the screen, since they don’t stay “live” enough to hold your attention or keep your phone’s screen lit. I will keep looking to see if there are other services that concentrate solely on play by play, as well as trying to cobble together a Twitter stream to approximate play by play because Twitter is fast. We should have a Verizon phone in hand soon to test out the NFL Mobile app, and we have also heard that Yahoo has a pretty good service so we will look for that as well.

Anyone else out there figure this out? Chime in below in the comments.

(all photos credit: MSR.)

Verizon’s NFL Mobile Twitter Chats: Lame and Tame (and so am I)

Twitter might be a cool and fun way for NFL fans to get in touch with their favorite teams and players, but the ad hoc “Twitter chats” sponsored by Verizon Wireless leave a lot to be desired, mainly due to the poor manners of the Twittersphere.

On Tuesday night Verizon Wireless and its NFL Mobile application sponsored a chat with Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo, otherwise known as @rak98 on Twitter. The half-hour long chat, which fans could find by either following Orakpo directly or by using the hashtag #NFLMobile, was almost instantly filled with spam Tweets, typically ones of a sexual nature with links to some godforsaken unknown location… which we didn’t click on.

Of the Tweets that did get through to Orakpo, the ones he chose to answer were pretty harmless — ones about “how frustrating is it when people hold you” or “what kind of victory dance will you do when you score a touchdown.” There were a couple that hinted at Orakpo’s personality — turns out his sports heroes include Michael Strahan and Hakeem Olajuwon — but since Orakpo forgot to include the #NFLMobile hashtag on several posts it was hard to follow the “chat” thread, especially with all the spam in between.

And though I tried hard, I couldn’t get Orakpo to answer a couple tweet questions I sent in — apparently they were either too controversial (I asked him if the ‘Skins were solidly behind QB Rex Grossman, someone who us Chicago Bears fans have few fond memories of) or too wordy — I also asked what Orakpo thought of the new tackling rules, a question I later realized couldn’t really be answered in 140 characters or less. So maybe I am as lame as the chat. So we’ll both learn going forward.

But it sure is a challenge to wade through the spam tweets. Not sure if the spam is standard fare for these chats, but with all its dough can’t Verizon get together with Twitter and find a way to keep the crap out of the chat? Otherwise these things are going to die a quick death and that would be unfortunate. Especially if it happens before I get one of my Tweets answered.

The Posada Affair: Wife’s Tweets To Make Baseball History?

If the Yankees fall one game short of the playoffs, Laura Posada's distracting in-game Tweets could become baseball history

Veteran New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada's wife Laura Posada in bikini (right) and Yankees short shorts and halter top (left). Photo courtesy of member twentythreeandtwo

Veteran New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada’s decision to sit out the Saturday May 14 game against the Boston Red Sox sparked an after-game press conference, and the faithful at New Yankee Stadium toting mobile devices already had the means to know a much larger story was unfolding.

Calling the game to a nationwide television audience, Fox Network broadcasters dubbed The Posada Affair an unprecedented example of tweets sparking a press conference during a game’s early innings, and an example of the growing importance of mobile applications and wireless access to the Internet at live sports events.

Jorge didn’t quit on team; He has a doctor’s note

Here’s what happened May 14.

Jorge Posada, the 39-year-old switch-hitting New York Yankees catcher, was set to bat No. 9 in the lineup and had a low season batting average coming into the game. Instead of playing, Posada scratched himself from the lineup minutes before Yankee starter C.C. Sabathia threw the first pitch. Amid rumors of Posada’s impeding retirement and clubhouse dissension, Laura Posada, the catcher’s wife, tweeted from the stands several times. Her messages, posted between the first and third innings, included this gem: “Jorge Didn’t Quit on Team; He Has a Doctor’s Note.”

Fast-moving tweets spark makeshift press conference

Among the 48,790 in attendance were followers of Laura Posada’s twitter account. Since her statements did not match retirement speculation or rumors that Posada threw what major media dubbed a “hissy fit” prior to the game, the Yankees scheduled a press conference to clear the air.

In a national telecast of the game, Fox broadcasters said The Posada Affair was believed to be the first time a Major League Baseball team scheduled a press conference to address statements made public during a game by an insider via a mobile device. 

Online “Posada” = onfield “Merkle”? 

The decision by Posada’s wife to Tweet during the game arguably cost the Yankees focus from the task at hand, which was beating Red Sox.

In the game, Posada’s replacement Andruw Jones went one for four with three strikeouts. The listless Yankees, no doubt in part distracted by The Posada Affair, lost to the BoSox 6-0. If the Yankees miss the playoffs by one game, The Posada Affair could become baseball history.

Baseball card depicting Fred Merkle

Fred Merkle on a baseball card; he was tormented by his costly mistake. Image courtesy of

There is precedent, albeit in a time when the only things that mattered happened on the field. In 1908, New York Giants third baseman Fred “Bonehead” Merkle failed to touch second base after the winning run scored with two out in the ninth inning of a tied ballgame against the Chicago Cubs. The game was declared a tie.

After the Giants missed the playoffs by one game, a “Merkle” was widely used to describe a stupid mistake. Could a “Posada” eventually become synonymous with an off-field communication that distracts a team from victory?

Posada and the future of mobile sports viewing

The Posada Affair underscores the growing power of mobile devices as an enhancement to those attending live sporting events. Wired attendees were able to see that Posada’s family considered the situation serious enough to comment, and get perspective that un-wired attendees did not have.

Mobile Sports Report recommends that NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL fans preconfigure their Twitter feeds to access all on-field, on-court and on-ice partipants and insiders, and use guides to know where Wi-Fi is available in stadiums. When live proposition betting on mobile devices is legalized in the United States, mobile sports viewers will have the ability to access information to their advantage, even if that information is a few tweets from a defensive family member.