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Developing an App: A Case Study from USA Triathlon

20 Nov, 2017

By: Caryn Maconi

USA Triathlon, the National Governing Body for the sport of triathlon, rolled out a mobile app in April of 2017. The interactive app, available via free download on iPhone and Android devices, is designed to provide event information for competitors and spectators at USA Triathlon’s four owned National Championships: Collegiate Club & High School, Duathlon, Youth & Junior and Age Group (Sprint and Olympic-distance).

This isn’t the first app USA Triathlon has offered; we also offer a USA Triathlon Magazine app as well as a Membership Card app, which allows athletes to access their USA Triathlon membership card on their mobile devices.

The newest app has been popular with its users; in fact, after the Age Group National Championships in August, which were the last owned National Championships on our 2017 schedule, we had 11,569 downloads. That is in the period between April’s Collegiate Club and High School National Championships, through the remaining events (Duathlon National Championships in June, Youth & Junior National Championships in August, and Age Group National Championships, also in August).

Our stats on event use this season include the following:
• 59,089 sessions
• 591,956 screens viewed
• Average session duration of 12 minutes, 56 seconds.

That is significant, and exceeded our expectations.

Features of the App
The app includes a live-tracking feature, which is very popular with families and other spectators who can now track their athletes’ progress in the race even when they (families and spectators) are unable to be there onsite.

The app has also allowed us as the governing body to present information that may affect participants and spectators on the day of the event. For example, we’ve used the push notification system to issue weather updates, lost-and-found notices, schedule adjustments and more, in order to communicate more quickly with participants than ever before.

Ability to Access the App
We mentioned earlier the app is available for free download. We made the decision to offer it free of charge as a service to our athletes, their friends and family members. Because athletes are already paying a registration fee to compete in our events, offering the app for free was an added perk and a way to enhance the total experience for racers and spectators. In addition, a free app made it more likely that fans, family members and followers offsite would choose to download the app and track their athletes’ progress, which in turn increases interest and engagement in our National Championships.

As an aside, it’s generally a good idea to create an app people can get free of charge. App designers tend to tell people not to create apps that will need to be purchased by athletes and spectators since it results in significantly fewer downloads – and even then, does not even begin to recoup the cost of having the app created. The easier you make it to access the app, the more likely it is to be used and to become a success.

Development of the Concept
In app development, the customer has the choice between using a platform-based app (meaning it is based on a pre-existing template) or a custom app (which means the designer starts from scratch). The USA Triathlon app is platform-based using the MYLAPS EventApp platform. We then customized the content within the app to meet our needs and specs for each event.

What Went into the App?
Our decision to launch an app was based on anecdotal feedback from event participants and USA Triathlon members over the years (for instance, a desire for live athlete tracking, making event details easier to find on a mobile device, etc.) The app was also created as a way to reach participants with race updates faster and more reliably, which makes the event run more smoothly as a whole.

Our staff put a great deal of time in the app’s development. For example, we went through a rigorous testing and feedback phase with various members of our staff. We used input from staff from our national events department, marketing, communications and website managers, our membership and IT departments and more. In addition to determining what features and capabilities we wanted to provide users, we also tested every detail of the app to ensure it functioned properly before releasing it to the public.

Our goal in developing the app was multi-purpose. We wanted something that would be of value to people on all levels of multisport: not just athletes but their families, spectators, enthusiasts, race directors, officials and USA Triathlon itself:
• For athletes, our ability to provide event information and course maps at their fingertips and issue push notifications for changes to event details was essential
• For families and other spectators, the live athlete tracking was the most popular aspect. In fact, this group can receive updates via Facebook, Twitter, push notification or text message when an athlete passes a checkpoint or crosses the finish line
• For USA Triathlon staff, we have been able to communicate more effectively with event participants and cover the race from a communications standpoint more easily.

In addition, there are plenty of other functions the app provides. Overall race results and a race leaderboard are also accessible through the app, and push notifications alert athletes of critical event details or anything they need to be aware of that might present a change to their plans. Also built in are fun, event-related selfie filters, in-app race registration and volunteer signup, as well as complete event information and schedules.

Time Frame
Good apps take time to develop. We worked with MYLAPS for two to three months prior to launch. We also went through continuous optimization throughout the event season, coming away from each event with key takeaways to continue streamlining the user experience. It’s a good idea to look at your app as going through the process of evolution to create valuable features.

Interested in Developing an App? Here’s Our Advice
Be adaptable: We streamlined and optimized throughout the season, and we welcomed feedback from staff and event participants to make the app as valuable as possible to all users. Don’t be defensive if a particular feature gets complaints from users – learn what they need and set about making those tweaks.

Test it thoroughly: We would encourage event owners and NGB staff to test any app’s platform thoroughly before making it public and to ensure it meets the needs of the population you’re trying to reach. Iron out every possible glitch in advance – but as we noted above, there may be a few wrinkles you haven’t thought of.

Be the experts: Be sure that every staff member who has a role interacting with athletes and event attendees knows the app inside and out, and can troubleshoot and answer questions when approached.

Have a backup plan/alternate source of information: Not everyone will be willing or able to download an app so it can’t be the only way to access details of the event. In addition, you’ll need to be prepared to provide information and updates quickly and reliably in another format in case of unforeseen technical issues.

Do the publicity: Make sure event attendees know about the app! Issue a press release, send information in pre-event emails, put flyers in race packets, promote on social media, and have your emcee make multiple announcements onsite. Make sure all the user groups know about it; for example, your spectators may not know they too can benefit from it.

Apps are a great way to create investment in an event. They can generate interest both internally (from athletes) and externally (from spectators, their families and others, as well as the larger community of your sport). They can allow for quick communication and notifications, as well as for increased engagement. Find a good platform that will work with you to create the product you need, and the result will be a benefit for everyone.  SDM

About the Author

Caryn Maconi

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