It comes around every four years and it fills up bars and brings work schedules to a crawl.
The World Cup has transcended sports and become a cultural touchstone. But those who make sports their business can forget about calling in sick to watch games because they have one month to win over a new audience.
TheScore is a big name in North American sports.
Once a TV station, they pivoted to become a digital entity and released one of the most used sports apps on the continent. So when the World Cup rolls around, it’s no surprise they have some coverage planned. However, throughout that transition to becoming a digital company, the Toronto-based company took a deliberate focus on the tech side of things as well—and the biggest sporting event in the world has given them a chance to strut that technical stuff more than ever before.
“The way sports is being consumed today is changing, and we’re in a good position to take advantage of that,” says Riaz Lalani, VP of product at theScore. “We’ve always leveraged tech and innovation as the key ingredient for our success. We’re not backed by huge telecom or media companies and don’t have a huge TV channel, but we do have a desire to deliver on new platforms and new experiences where people are, or where we expect they will be.”
The app usually brings in between four to five million monthly active users. Throughout the first week of World Cup action, the specific in-app section promoting the tournament saw over one million users, meaning 20 to 25 per cent of their monthly users accessed that one area of the app already. TheScore has also seen increases in terms of installs from both North American and global audiences.
But that all makes sense—big sporting event, so more people use the platforms to access those events. To theScore, it’s all about what you can do with the opportunity.
“No matter if we’re ourselves, CBS, ESPN or whatever, there’s a customer expectation for us to build something for The World Cup,” says Lalani. “But I’m of the opinion, especially considering the global and North American interest in soccer, that The World Cup was a great reason for us to go innovate in a sport where traditionally we haven’t been as big.”
TheScore had to find new ways to deliver the information new fans wanted, and then give them a reason to stick around and keep using the app, as well as give old users an avenue into a new sport. This was the perfect chance as through access to all their user data they knew that fans in North America are slowly but surely getting into soccer.
“No matter what you’re interested in, if you’re in the app, you’ll want to know about the World Cup,” says Lalani. “If we do a good job there, it could be a catalyst.
“These are the types of moments where people fall in love with a new sport. If we’re not doing our jobs and capturing that newfound love, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”
There’s a lot of ways for theScore’s tech team to do that. It all begins with the onboarding process for new downloads. When a new user installs the app, they have a special World Cup-guided process that lets them choose the team(s) they want to follow along with right away.
From there, theScore surveyed some of their biggest soccer users and looked at other soccer-specific apps to see what kinds of coverage they were missing. The app is already a great multi-sports platform, but what a lot of fans came to theScore for was the sheer amount of in-game data provided—so they needed to bring that to soccer. In came game timelines, key performers and players, and data comparisons between the teams, with a lot of that data displayed in the gorgeous sliding UI pictured below.
To convert these new users—whether they’re new to soccer or the app itself—theScore may send out some slick notifications. If a fan is following Portugal, they might see a little pop up to follow Ronaldo, or even Real Madrid (the team Ronaldo plays on in the UEFA Champions League).
“You may or may not care, but we’ll make it easier,” says Lalani.
The World Cup brings other ways to engage as well. theScore pumps out editorial content on an hourly basis, which then provides customized feeds for users to follow along with, all the way down to a specific game. A live score table updates standings after each goal and match, so dedicated fans can know exactly what the group standings look like.
But the most impressive tech may come from what theScore is doing with their Facebook Messenger bot.
“We consider the Messenger bot as an opportunistic area we wanted to invest in,” says Lalani. “We wanted to build in coverage so that a user can find their World Cup team, get those alerts, and get the personalization they have with everything else.”
Localization was a big part of doing that. The World Cup is a global phenomenon, and with well over a billion monthly users, Messenger was a great way to localize coverage. theScore offers coverage, stats, and the ability to follow teams, all through the Messenger platform and in English, Portuguese, Spanish and French.
The bot has seen a lot of success before. When it launched, it was promoted heavily in India, and the theScore saw well over 100,000 raw intent messages from Indian citizens to add cricket leagues—so they did.
The Messenger component of World Cup coverage may be the most important, as it helps theScore learn how they can scale beyond this month-long tournament and into other parts of the world. The team can look at unique engagement, see where users retention is spiking, then go to those areas and focus on what’s happening.
“The key to this is we have relationships,” says Lalani. “Imagine a traditional marketing company spending millions on a billboard to put in times square just to get eyeballs. That’s not a conversation—our method is an innovative scalable way to drive audience.”
For a sports company, it’s a no-brainer to cover the World Cup. But as a tech company, theScore knows this is a unique chance to take advantage of a spike in worldwide users and scale with new engagement methods. And unlike the German squad this year, that won’t leave any upset team players at theScore’s headquarters.