For TheScore, Treating Desktop As An Afterthought Allows Mobile To Shine

theScoreTheScore, maker of the popular sports app, attributes its revenue growth in a competitive mobile market to one thing: staying focused.

TheScore devotes all of its attention to creating the best content and ad experiences for mobile, which includes its mobile app and the mobile web. Desktop exists, but it’s completely an afterthought, making theScore a digital, mobile pure play.

That’s not unusual for the app world, but it is for the publishing world, and theScore focuses on writing sports content for fans on the go.

Originally part of The Score, a Canadian sports TV network, theScore started with a mobile app that worked on flip phones before debuting one of the first sports apps made for the iPhone.

When Rogers Media bought the TV network in 2012, it spun off theScore so it could grow and adapt without the burden of reporting to a broadcast network. Since 2012, its monthly users have grown from 3.5 million to 10.5 million.

A public company, theScore reported 2014 revenue of $7.8 million Canadian ($7 million USD), up from $5.2 million ($5 million USD) in 2013. Its revenue through the third quarter of 2015 was $9.4 million ($7.2 million USD).

TheScore can stay ahead of competitors like ESPN, Bleacher Report and Yahoo because it’s so exclusively focused on mobile, said Ethan Ross, theScore’s SVP of sales.

“Mobile, from a user standpoint, is a different behavior,” he said. “We write articles for mobile consumption and have mobile [ad] units” native to the site, which sets it up for success.

TheScore sets up content consumption to be highly personalized, for example. Users follow leagues or players and receive updates when anything new happens to the teams and players they care about. 

Traditional publishers underestimate the amount of work required to get the content and ad experiences right for mobile.

Unlike some publishers, theScore optimizes its programmatic channels every day to maximize yield.

“It’s a daily process to make sure things are in place and we’re squeezing the most out of inventory as possible,” Ross said.

Traffic spikes on game days, making it important to use programmatic channels to capture revenue from that extra use.

“The average user on NFL Sunday comes back 10 times checking stats and scores,” Ross said. “Usage is deep.”

Optimizing on mobile requires knowledge of what vendors and setups work best for the platform. TheScore only works with vendors that are mobile-focused. And if there are 10 moving parts in desktop programmatic, there are about 50 for mobile, Ross estimated, which he believes makes it a much more challenging platform.

TheScore attracts direct-sold campaigns as well, which involve more splashy high-impact units, such as interstitials or large in-feed video units. Advertisers include Miller Lite, Just For Men, Audi and Ford.

Some of these brands are large, tier-one advertisers that already sponsor sports events, while others use theScore to get access to a sports audience they can’t afford on TV.

Ross sees two attributes of mobile that are highly desirable for advertisers. First, geotargeting allows advertisers to target people by location, such as those near a Dallas Cowboys game. And advertisers want to reach fans while they’re engaging with their passion.

“For March Madness, that’s a 16-day tournament and nobody has all the TVs to watch every game,” Ross said. “It’s a mobile-centric event and a huge traffic driver. Advertisers realize that there are specific verticals that lend themselves well to mobile.”

TheScore’s short-term goals include going broader with its coverage and deeper with its advertisers. It added the eSports app in February, and will launch a fantasy sports app within the next few weeks. It’s also working on setting up private marketplaces for advertisers and increasing campaigns designed around key games or events, such as the postseason.

Its focus on mobile allows it to create sponsorships around mobile-only opportunities, such as branded alerts every time the user’s favorite team scores. That’s what sets theScore apart, Ross said.

“A lot of companies [that] were really successful in desktop try to apply the same principles to mobile,” he said, “and it’s just not the same.”

 

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