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US Open courts mobile fans with location-based messaging, streamlined content

The United States Tennis Association launched new apps for smartphones and iPad tablets for its two-week, showcase event, with content tailored for each device. The association executed a careful strategy not only around the content displayed, but also around the advertising that appears within the apps. 

?Last year was the first year that mobile eclipsed desktop, and that?s why we went mobile-first this year,? said Nicole Jeter West, senior director of ticketing and digital strategy at the USTA. ?We are making sure fans can get all of the information they need, no matter where they are or what device they are using.? 

Last year the US Open Web site garnered 419 million page views, including 178 million from smartphones and 41.7 million from tablets. This year the USTA is seeking to drive as much mobile traffic as possible to the apps, while still offering an m-dot site as well. 

Armonk, NY-based IBM has been the US Open?s technology partner for the past 25 years and created the apps, among a host of other tasks the technology giant executes at the event. 

Beacon test
The wide-scale use of location-detecting beacon devices has not been rolled out at the US Open this year, but the USTA is conducting a limited test. Beacons at the entrances to the event prompt a message to fans offering tips on how to best enjoy the event and encouraging them to download the app. 

Advertisers in the app, which include American Express, Ralph Lauren, esurance, Mercedes-Benz and United Emirates, also have the ability to send location-based push messages to app users based on location using geofencing technology. Last year advertisers could only send static location-based push messages, but this year those messages can contain rich media. 

The m-dot site, which is adaptively designed to detect mobile devices, encourages app downloads.

Ms. Jeter West said that last year the USTA noticed that app users were highly engaged with static push notifications they received, often going back into the messages in their in-boxes after first receiving them. 

?We were very strategic in our messaging last year,? she said. ?We wanted to make sure we are not over-saturating fans with too many messages.? 

This year the USTA is taking a similar approach. It is limiting push alerts to two per session, and making sure those alerts are spread out within the session. 

?We are also looking to make sure it is relevant to the person based on their location,? Ms. Jeter West said. 

Most of the push notifications, such as those from Ralph Lauren, seek to drive users to the advertisers? booths or retail outlets on the US Open grounds in New York. IBM partners with messaging vendor Urban Airship to deliver the push notifications. 

Streamlined experience
The mobile-optimized Web site and apps seek to offer a user-friendly experience in which content has been edited down for consumption on the smaller screens, Ms. Jeter West said. 

?The m-dot site is really sort of a stripped-down version of the dot-org site,? she said. ?We learned from past years what people were looking at on their mobile devices, and over the years we have streamlined the content for mobile.? 

The iPad app offers graphic representations of data.

IBM?s data-crunching capabilities deliver an increasing volume of statistics to Web site visitors and app users around the event, including data that tracks ball and player movement and analyses of players? tendencies. 

In addition to live scores and schedules, the apps also include Twitter feeds and a feature called TrendCast that allows users to follow social media commentary match-by-match. An interactive game called the Live Predication Challenge allows users to guess outcomes of individual matches. 

This year is also the first time IBM is using an instant live-score update feature in the apps that often delivers scores faster than television broadcasts, said Stephen Hammer, events practice leader with IBM Interactive Experience

?We are really focused this year on delivering the mobile experience through the apps,? he said. ?We?ve tried to streamline the experience and make smart use of content.? 

Final Take 
Mark Hamstra is content director on Mobile Marketer, New York