local media insider
Case study

Schurz' Twitter-based sports app scores a home run

Sports analysts responding to Tweets from players and coaches - a huge win for Schurz and and major upgrade to real-time sports coverage.

Alisa Cromer
Even so, the 99 cent HuddleUp app has 2000 downloads. Will Twitteresque sports apps become new normal?
CatalistUKBasketball has the advantages of a great name (re app store naming conventions) and being free.
Sigh, nothing quite as dry as an app screen shot. Here's Catlist again, as sports analysts responding to Tweets from players and coaches. Fans went wild and downloaded 500 apps the first day - before the app was publicly announced or promoted.

Company: Schurz Communications, based in Mishawaka, In., owner of newspapers, TV, radio stations and cable companies in states that include Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and Virginia.

Initiative: Local sports team apps

Key executives: Sandy Martin, Director of Mobile and Kerry Oslund, VP of Digital

Summary: Schurz Communications has a goal of developing five apps for each of its media properities, in order of priority:




*Local information (guides)

*User-Generated or social media based app.

Most markets currently have at least two of these developed, with all five on the road map. The news app is a mainstay  - with the exception of radio - but more difficult to sell.  Weather apps on the other hand are almost always an instant winner in both downloads and sales; one broadcast site sells $6000 to $7000 on its weather app, with the largest client being the airport. Local is still under-development, and could include local  listings - such as dining - with coupons. 

And a sports apps will be in more than half of Schurz markets by the end of the year and in all markets by 2013, given that not every market has a strong team with a fan base. But for markets with a sports team, sponsors for apps abound. This case study looks at the development of a unique, proprietary sports app that received 500 downloads its first day in the Apple store. 

Challenge: The idea for the first user-generated app - and what looks like a runaway home run for Schurz - germinated in a brainstorming session between the company's top digital director and a college intern. Kerry Oslund, VP of digital, and the intern were trading ideas for apps that answered the question "how we can add value" by incorporating social media.  They started talking about the new role of Twitter.

Not only are fans breaking the news during sports games, but sports analysts were already using twitter feeds to get ideas for stories and keep fans informed. How could an app enhance these new conversations and add value?

The solution was to build an app which leverages user-generated content from players and coaches via twitter,  and enhances it with responses from professional sports analysts.  The team has dubbed this SoLoMoPro, a social-local-mobile-professional app.

Here are the essential elements: Twitter lists made up of tweets  from coaches, players, recruits and opponents are curated into the app. Then the sports analysts report not just on the games, but also on what players are saying via the feeds. Analysts - such as Danville's popular sports writer Larry Vaught - get more space to write so the app is not a pure Twitteresque string of niblets.

"They can place long or short message inside of the app, whatever they need to say, they have the space to talk about it," Martin said, although "Some of them like to make comments that resemble tweets."

The result is a rich, real time dialogue, that converges Tweets with professional analysis into running threads.  

Since the app was a new configuration of posting plus Twitter, Schurz decided to build the app from scratch, at first hiring an independent programmer and later transitioning programing to in-house developers.

Designing versus leasing pre-built technology is a tricky issue, but in this case, due to the novelty of the configuration,  there was no alternative.  

“When you include the time, you can’t get it done for less than $25,000 to launch something new. We had five executives working on the project. The costs add up very quickly when you factor in everyone's time," Martin says.

However, the value of a potential "slam dunk" across the multiple markets with a passionate fan base makes the investment worthwhile.

Choosing the markets
The first two apps were designed for high interest local university teams. Danville, Kentucky, where the company owns the Advocate Messenger, is located just outside of Lexington, KY, home of the Wildcats, the uber-popular basketball team of the University of Kentucky.  South Bend, Indiana, which has both a newspaper, The South Bend Tribune, and a leading television site, WSBT, is home to football team Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Schurz chose the two teams to build and test their app concept.

Naming the apps and Apple Store strategy
The Apple App Store in iTunes does not use the app’s description that is visible to the public for finding apps.  Instead, an app publisher must fit all relevant keywords to the app inside of the app’s name and keyword field during the submission process. The keyword field is not visible to the public, and it is limited to 100 characters.  

The name and the 100 characters of keywords are both critical factors in "being found" in the app store. The first app, Huddle Up Notre Dame, includes the school’s name in the title as well as supporting keywords.

The Catalist UK Basketball app was able to incorporate the type of app - basketball -  and most-used acronym for the team's school, University of Kentucky, in the name, as well as packing "all the key words into the 100 characters allowed" in the store.  Key tip for local apps: Use the city and type of app in the name, if possible.   Cat-a-list refers to the team's, Wildcats, "list" of players who tweet.

Android stores use the app’s  name and full description that is visible to the public for app search.  Publishers need to be careful to create a list of keywords and to write keyword rich descriptions in order to take full advantage of both app marketplaces.  Both these apps started on the iPhone and will migrated to Android shortly.

Free versus paid
As a test, Huddle Up launched at .99 cents while the Catalist UK Basketball app is free. Launching the same type of app with two different environments allows Schurz to weigh the value of revenues from subscribers against the value of added velocity of free downloads.

Relationship with newspaper content
A key factor for the new apps is that the content is unrelated to the content of the newspaper sites - except that they cover basketball and use the same sports analysts. However no content is repurposed on the app.

Marketing the app

Discoverability in the app store is a significant contributor to app downloads, particularly for subjects that are searched often, such as sports.  Social media has also been a strong driver of app downloads.  Larry Vaught, in the case of Catalist, is active on Twitter, and his Twitter followers were early adopters of the app.  

Catalist UK Basketball had the same number of downloads in one week that it took HuddleUp to generate in six weeks.  The team at Schurz credits that difference to the free download.


While Martin does not disclose what each of the first sponsors pays, she stipulates a suggested pricing for sponsoring sports apps at $500 to $1500 a month depending on traffic. That number could become much bigger for larger markets or for teams with an exceptionally strong fan base. (LMI members have recommended starting new app sales with a single sponsor on a flat rate with a stipultion that more sponsors may be added at a stipulated  number of page views, so that a sponsorship model continues to have a CPM basis of $10 to $15 long term if the app takes off.)


Schurz knew immediately that Catalist UK Basketball was heading for stardom, even without the support of a broadcast site.

"The first day there were 500 downloads (from the app store) before we knew the app was live." Within six weeks, that number climbed to 5000. Of all the apps launched - ten to twenty - it was the "fastest growth of any app in a newspaper market."

Danville sports analyst Larry Vaught was also caught off guard, the second that CATALIST hit the App Store, and before any formal announcement was made, he says,  “My Twitter blew up with comments about the app.”

As of March, 2012, CATALIST had 5000 downloads compared to 2000 for HuddleUp, also a success story but on a smaller scale.

Each app has one key sponsor (Schurz is not disclosing, however we estimate combined revenues are between $1000 to $3000 a month).  With the cost of the app, first year break even would be a good objective.

However, when the new basketball and football seasons kick off, the demand from sponsors, as well as downloads, may make the apps much more valuable. Since the technology is owned, year two is, virtually, free. (We say virtually, because apps continue to require tweaks and programing, so it's hard to finalize the numbers).

"We are in an early, early stage. In a years time ,or even in the late fall when we have basketpball season again, for Kentucky, I think we will have 50,000 downloads. And that will be a different story," Martin told us.

Another result of the apps are  that they extend the reach for the media company from a small city to "all of Kentucky and beyond."

Lessons learned

1. Twitter and mobile apps are a powerful combination. Martin uses the site herself and has firsthand testimony of how it functions as a "first alert" system for fans: "I heard of Jeremy Lin, (by following hashtags #lin and #linning)  on Catalist before we saw it on CNN. News is breaking on Twitter first."  This app takes advantage of curated player and coach tweets, but we can see other variations, such as curations of tweeted restaurant specials. 

2. Good apps are still expensive to build.  Done really, really well, as this app is, there is huge year-two revenue potential - or even year one during basketball season. However, there is still no "cheap" way to built a good, unique app.  Leased apps, since they are leased to multiple companies, do not have a unique competitive advantage, and continue to require payments throughout their life span. In short, there are no easy answers. We will continue to report on unique apps that have been developed in other markets (Cocktailcompass.com developed by theStranger) or which are unique and available on an exclusive by DMA basis such as Forkfly.com. 

3. Naming conventions matter. One key factor in the relative performance of Catalist UK Basketball over Huddle Up NotreDame is the searchability of the name. Including the type of app - basketball - in the name, as well as the name of the university,  helped initial downloads skyrocket.

4. Free over paid. The 99-cent per download both generated revenues and also depressed downloads. HuddleUp Notre Dame has an income so far this year about about $2000 from subscriptions; but less than one third the downloads of Catalist UK Basketball.

Even factoring in the slightly less searchable naming convention, free simply gets more downloads than paid. With a typical advertiser willing to pay $5000 to $20,000 a year to sponsor an app - and more if the app takes off during the season - the subscription revenue becomes negligible. At least one Schurz marketare already selling $6000 to $7000 a month in sponsorship revenues for it weather apps, so this is no longer an experimental proposition. For a news app with lower advertiser potential (the Michael Jackson trial app, for example) this equation may be reversed.

Many thanks to Sandy Martin, Digital Director of Shurz for sharing this case study and lessons learned with us.

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.