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ACC debuts advertising-sponsored mobile gaming application for college football

Associated Press

Published: September 23, 2013

Just in time for the 2013 college football season, the Atlantic Coast Conference unveiled its “ACC Football Challenge” mobile-gaming application, the first mobile-gaming app for college sports.

The mobile app, which launched on Aug. 28, is a free gaming app available for both iPhones and Android-based smartphones. It features all 14 of the conference’s football teams and integrates with social media.

Developed with Raycom Sports, the syndicated broadcast and digital rights holder of the ACC, and sponsored by McAlister’s Deli, the Alpharetta, Ga.-based fast casual restaurant chain, the gaming app appears to be the first attempt in both college and professional sports not only to interject gaming into the so-called “second-screen experience” for fans, but also to monetize that experience.

The second-screen experience refers to the use of an additional monitor — usually a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet — while watching television, allowing the audience to interact with what it’s watching, whether a television show, movie, video game or, in this case, a live sporting event.

As many as 75 to 85 percent of viewers (depending on the study) reportedly use a second screen while watching television. In the sports context, use of the second screen can be as simple as fans reacting on social media, such as Twitter or Facebook, or checking on various sports news apps, scores from other games and fantasy-league standings, while watching a sporting event on television.

Recognizing that providing a high-quality, second-screen experience has the potential to be a lucrative and successful fan-engagement tool, many college and professional teams and leagues are also offering more sophisticated “fan experience” platforms, providing tailored video and social media feeds.

Before debuting its mobile-gaming app, the ACC already began making inroads into the second-screen experience by offering the “ACC Sports” application, a video-streaming app for iPhones, iPads and Android smartphones that allows fans to watch live coverage of select football and basketball games, as well as select coverage of Olympic sports, from the ACC Network, the conference’s own sports network.

The smartphone app, which includes in-app sponsored advertising by Carrabba’s, the national food chain, allows users to customize their video viewing according to their favorite schools and also includes scoreboards featuring live scores, play-by-play, game summary, standings and schedules and highlights and historical video clips.

The application for the iPad adds the “Game Center,” with an interactive display of all ACC game information and live video coverage, as well as ACC News coverage.

Mobile-gaming apps have become ubiquitous in today’s digital society — think Candy Crush or Angry Birds — so much so that “gamification” (the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a traditionally non-game context to engage consumers) has become a successful marketing and consumer engagement tool.

For example, Nike created its Nike+ platform to engage and encourage runners to take their workouts to a new level, not only by setting goals and tracking their progress within the platform, but also by collecting and analyzing data on their running through the use of sophisticated on-person sensors. The platform, which debuted as a site and app exclusively for runners and which has now been expanded to include basketball players, also has a social media component that allows users to interact with other athletes, and to “challenge” friends.

While gaming and second-screen platforms are now fairly common in the sports arena, the ACC Football Challenge app is apparently the first attempt to combine — and monetize — the two elements in a single interactive app.

The app, which is free to download, will include upgraded elements that will cost between $1.99 and $4.99 to add. The app allows users to choose their favorite school and compete against other “teams” in a variety of different challenges, including both individual head-to-head competition and competition play in online tournaments.

The online play includes the “Saturday Second Screen Rivalry” and the “McAlister’s Tea it Up” challenges, in which the users attempt to kick (digitally via their mobile device, of course) as many successful field goals as possible in 40 seconds and can unlock prizes from the sponsor, McAlister’s Deli. The advertised prizes range from a free cookie to a $500 gift card.

McAlister’s Deli and the ACC are also advertising a sweepstakes for a grand prize, a VIP trip to the 2013 ACC Championship game, which will include airfare, hotel and two tickets to the Dec. 7 Dr. Pepper Championship game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

The ACC Football Challenge app also includes a social media component through which users are encouraged to post scores, “brag about [their] conquests” on Twitter and Facebook, and check their teams overall standings on a leader board.

Advertising for McAlister's Deli, which has 320 franchise locations in 23 states (mostly in the Midwest and Southern Atlantic states), pops up several times throughout the game, including the appearance of the company’s logo across the screen when the app is first opened and in other ads and calls-to-action at the top of the screen. The “ACC Football Challenge app” will be promoted on theacc.com, in participating McAlister’s restaurants, on Facebook and repeatedly during ACC games which are reportedly viewed by more than 60 million households each week.

As the college football season gets underway, the ACC hoping that its new mobile-gaming app — which incorporates various informational, entertainment, gaming and social media components — will be a mobile touchdown and that viewers in many of those 60 million households will add the ACC Football Challenge app to their second-screen experience, driving further fan involvement and interest in the conference and its teams.

Douglas N. Masters is a partner in Loeb & Loeb LLP’s Chicago office, where he litigates and counsels clients primarily in the areas of intellectual property, advertising and unfair competition. He is deputy chairman of the firm’s advanced media and technology department and co-chair of the firm’s intellectual property protection group. He can be reached at dmasters@loeb.com. Seth A. Rose is a partner in the firm’s Chicago office, where he counsels clients on programs and initiatives in the fields of advertising, marketing, promotions, media, sponsorships, entertainment, branded and integrated marketing, and social media. He can be reached at srose@loeb.com.