As many guys will admit, getting game score updates pushed to a smartphone is one of the main reasons for owning the device. By downloading an app such as ESPN’s popular ScoreCenter, users can get real-time updates on the performance of the teams they want to follow.
But for the most part, users of standard feature phones, which cannot download apps, have had to settle for the score updates that came loaded on their phones or are provided by their wireless carrier—which are not personalizable and don’t offer real-time communication.
The Chicago Bulls are looking into a way to change that and to connect more closely with fans who can’t be at the games and aren’t in front of a TV. The Bulls, currently leading the Eastern Conference of the NBA, have partnered with Chicago-based mobile marketing firm Vibes Media to offer real-time game updates and player stats via SMS.
Fans who text SCORE to short code BULLS (28557) during a live game will get a return text with up-to-the-minute game information pulled directly from the NBA’s game feed. And if fans want to know how Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is faring in his drive to be named this season’s MVP, they can simply text his last name to the same short code and get his latest game stats.
“We strive to be the most comprehensive resource of Bulls-related information to our fans,” says Jeremy Thum, the team’s director of interactive marketing. “Mobile devices are ubiquitous, and SMS is still the most widely available mechanism to connect with fans’ mobile devices. What’s new about the live score feature is allowing fans to dictate the messaging. Loyal fans hate missing gems, but when fans cannot be at the United Center, or in front of a TV or laptop, we have provided the mechanism for the instant information those fans want, as well as contact with our brand.”
“Especially as we get toward the season playoffs and the games matter a lot more, fans want to know how the game is going,” says Vibes co-founder and CEO Alex Campbell. “And while in the future, app may handle that because they give users a more feature-rich environment, the crux of it is that many people don’t want to open up an app and see the score by period or player—all they want is the score.”
The SMS effort, which launched on March 30, is still a pilot for the Bulls, as they study how fans are using the service. For example, the ability to text in Bulls player names and get their individual stats wasn’t an intentional part of the initial service. Vibes built that feature into the SMS platform, again off the NBA main game feed, in response to requests from the early adopters.
“People could see the scores but wanted to know how a specific player was doing,” says Campbell. “So we built that in. The interesting thing is that feature is just launching now, and while [the Bulls] haven’t done any promotion around it, people have already figured it out and started using it.”
So far, the team has been publicizing its SMs scored update service mainly through digital channels: the www.Bulls.com Web site, the Facebook page (with about 1.8 million likes), to 100,000 Twitter followers and to the names on their opt-in mobile database for Bulls Mobile Alerts. While the team has been building that mobile opt-in house list for the last three seasons, offering game scores, breaking Bulls news and exclusive ticket offers, Thum says, the live score SMs feature is being treated as a standalone mobile offering, at least for the moment.
“We see the live scores as just a stepping stone to a fully customizable menu of messaging options,” Thum says. “Our major promotion will likely take place once we have expanded the capabilities of on-demand messaging further.”
Asked whether the SMS score updates might lend themselves to monetization through ads or sponsorship, Thum says, “Fan interest peaks during game action. I believe that providing a mechanism of instant connection through a ubiquitous communication platform will generate significant interest by corporate partners.
Vibes has carved something of a niche as a mobile marketing firm that can partner with sports organizations. Soon after its start-up in 1998, the company began running text-to-screen and text-to-scoreboard campaigns.
“We got our start in sports venues back in 2003,” Campbell says. “Mobile fits with sports so well in a venue because it’s the only device you have with you. In a large venue, with thousands of people looking at messaging on a screen telling you to do something, the only way you can interact is through SMs.”
For the past few years, the firm has been working with the Pittsburgh Penguins on both in-stadium and out-of-venue mobile messaging.