NFL Mobile's Playbook for Paydirt

NFL Media’s drive for mobile expansion is hitting paydirt. The league has overhauled its fan-facing app and mobile website to streamline offerings for easier navigation and of course, increased engagement. Jazz Singh, NFL Media’s director of product for mobile and connected devices, joined the most popular U.S. sports league two years ago from Pivotal Labs.

Ahead of the upcoming Super Bowl, Singh opened up the NFL's mobile playbook and talked strategy with Open Mobile Media's Robert Gray…
 
OMM: What lessons have you learned from tracking UI changes and content changes with user behavior?
Singh:Keep it simple. I cannot stress enough how the simplest solutions work the best. When you have to think about something, requirement or development, if extra thought is needed then there’s an opportunity to simplify it.
 
OMM: As you track fan usage of the site, how are you wading through the fresh mounds of data to better serve them and keep them engaged?
Singh: The best data is in-market. I love to see analytics that show how people are using it. There’s special tracking to get answers to some specific questions, but that’s the top data I like to look at. What we try to do is gather all the analytics data that we can.
If we can’t get any raw data on stuff we’ll ask them and take them through prototypes. Ask people how they would do certain things and get data that way. I have a rule that data is always available even if from your uncle.
 
OMM: How is the NFL working to keep fans and users engaged and returning to the site between games and what sorts of initiatives/rewards/notifications have you found that are most successful in generating repeat traffic?
Singh: Notifications is an extremely powerful tool, but there’s also some drawback. You don’t want to over-notify or bother people. You need to take responsibility if you want to do push notifications because you can alienate some people if you overuse or don’t use it correctly.
We often like to do our best to fix the bottom of the funnel first--how do we keep people in?--before we open the top and let the water flow through.
We’ve started a few initiatives, a new end of video experience for our VOD. It recommends or allows people to watch more video after they’ve watched a clip. As we grow our next step it is to be smarter with our recommendations to fine-tune that area.
 
OMM: Are you using AI for recommendations?
Singh: Currently, no. It’s the experience and we do it only for areas that make sense, like game highlights. If you watch a Lions vs. Packers highlight, maybe the next highlight is Lions vs. Bears.
Were not worried bout the AI right now, let’s make sure we get the experience right before we change the intelligence behind it. We have logical groupings already done so we didn’t need to jump right into AI right away--but we will in the future.
 
OMM: How do you capitalize on marketing opportunities whether it’s for an upcoming game, buying gear from their favorite team, or connecting advertising partners with a target audience?
Singh: Marketing, one of the initiatives we did is around gear. We introduced a native shopping experience. At the beginning of the season or last year, anyone who visited NFL Shop through NFL Mobile went to a web view. They were redirected to web view and had to finish browsing and buying thru mobile website.
This year we moved to a mobile native experience that looks and feels night and day from before. We think that’s something that we felt really improved the experience of anyone who wanted to shop for jerseys or gear.
 
OMM: The NFL remains a premiere live TV event, but in this digital age how much of a role is the move to mobile device/alternate platform viewing playing a role for live games and highlights?
Singh: We are seeing the shift; I don’t think there’s any questions about that. The way I look at it is this, if you’re in front of a TV you’ll watch it on TV, but if you’re not, you now have the opportunity to consume it. It’s the increase in opportunity.
I don’t think they’re giving up their TV for football, but we’ve increased the opportunity: if I’m on a bus, on a train, at a wedding I don’t have access to watch it on a TV so I’m going to watch it on my phone.
I don’t think people are necessarily shifting to their phone, but we’re seeing more usage on their mobile devices than in the past.
We’re definitely seeing growth.
 
OMM: Is the NFL using or testing chatbots, AI/machine learning?
Singh: We are exploring, but there’s nothing public right now.
 
OMM: The NFL offers a wide variety of content across platforms, are you finding that app usage is down and more fans are accessing content via the mobile web?
Singh:We’re bucking that trend.
 
OMM: What are the key challenges in the mobile space that you face at the moment? And what are some of the solutions you’re deploying? 
Singh: A key challenge is getting more people into the funnel. We’ve given people the opportunity to consume content when they’re on the go. Can we take it the next step where we’re the first option to consuming content on mobile? We’re trying to drive more people into the funnel whether it’s being more nuanced and smarter about push notifications, the way we surface content, we’ve reached the stage where we’re trying to introduce tweaks to increase usage.
We’re tweaking right now to help increase our consumption and increase the number of people in our funnel.
 
OMM: A year ago there was a lot of discussion about the need to be mobile first…but now it’s more about being mobile native—is that just a nuance for established brands or is there a change operationally?
Singh:Operationally, I don’t think there’s a change here. We’ve had the mobile first mentality for a number of years. There was a lot of talk whether mobile web will take over, I’m of the opinion that native will be cleaner, smoother, faster, a better experience. 
(Mobile native) comes with its own challenges but there’s more than enough knowledge and expertise for you to be native on all the relevant platforms. I don’t think we needed to do that. We’ve been in that native-first mentality for quite some time now.
 
OMM: How much effect are wearables having on the mobile landscape? And how much will that change over the next year?
Singh: For B2C I don’t know if there’s any opportunity for us to be on wearables.
I don’t think that’s where we need to be. I do know there’s a separate division that’s putting wearables on players. I think that’s something as far as wearables are concerned. I think NextGen stats is where the opportunity lies for us at this point.
We don’t have an Apple Watch view, but standard notifications through it will happen. We don’t have anything native. It’s on our road map, we’ve talked about accelerating it but it’s not something we’ve fully executed on.
 
OMM: What new technologies do you see having the most potential to boost your business in the next 12 months? And what are you skeptical about when it comes to mobile trends?
Singh:Augmented reality and virtual reality. I’m interested in seeing what happens. My biggest thing is I’d like to see what happens with virtual reality. Is it just a fad? Or will people use it over and over again. Shelf life is my biggest concern. I’ve seen some cool things on VR and shown my friends some but not sure I’ve ever gone back to them.
If someone figures out how to get shelf life on (VR content) I’m interested in that.