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New App Designed for Sports Fans on Twitter

Fri, 06/15/2012 - 6:22am
Jay Cohen, AP Sports Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — When Philip Sanford goes to his favorite bar to watch his beloved Seton Hall Pirates, he brings along his phone charger so he also can follow the game on Twitter.

Heather Carleton looks to the social media website for clarification when there's a disputed call involving the San Francisco 49ers.

David Foreman likes to communicate with West Virginia fans across the country.

More and more these days, when the game is on, so is the computer. Or tablet. Or cellphone. Sports fans around the world are following along on Twitter while they watch their favorite teams in person or on TV, and a new application from a San Francisco startup is designed to make that experience even easier for them.

"Since I can't really listen to it since I'm at a sports bar, I like to read about what's going on from a journalistic point of view," said the 29-year-old Sanford, who lives in Charlotte, N.C. "I can learn about what's going from several different sources."

There are signs all over that sports fans are using Twitter even while the game is going on in front of them.

Sporting events are responsible for the majority of the top moments measured in tweets per second. The Champions League match between Barcelona and Chelsea on April 24 peaked at 13,684 tweets per second, second only to the 2011 showing of a movie in Japan.

According to a study by the Perform sports media group, 26 percent of U.S. fans use social media platforms to follow their favorite sports, up from 15 percent in a similar survey in 2011. One-third of those fans say they use Twitter to follow sports, trailing Facebook (89 percent) and YouTube (65) — based on 1,002 online interviews of adults conducted during February and March.

Colleges and professional sports are paying attention to those numbers. Sunday's Pocono 400 Presented by (hash)NASCAR marked Twitter's first official partnership with a sports league. There are all sorts of official hashtags that allow fans to zero in on everything being said about their hometown teams at key moments.

"It's really interesting to get more perspective on the game or whatever, whether it's golf or football, because I get to learn more about the players maybe the announcers aren't talking about," Carleton said. "So I think it's becoming more of a tool or resource than the social media part."

Carleton, 34, a stay at home mom in Portland, Ore., goes to Mike Pereira whenever there is a questionable ruling in a 49ers game. Pereira was NFL vice president of officiating from 2001-09 and will weigh in on some controversial whistles on Twitter.

"It's kind of nice to have that third party to see if you're being biased or not and then you feel vindicated if he says you're right," she said.

Foreman, 40, of Lewisburg, Pa., likes the community aspect found on Twitter during sporting events.

"I'm sort of an expatriate so a lot of time as I'm watching the Pirates game I am communicating with people in California and other far-flung locations, especially watching WVU," said Foreman, who works in development at Bucknell University.

Will Hunsinger knows exactly what Foreman is talking about.

Hunsinger, 42, is a proud Georgetown alum and avid follower of the men's basketball team. He was watching a game with his wife last year while communicating with a friend from Switzerland over Facebook and receiving text messages from his father when he came up with an idea.

"I was like 'God, if I could just have this in my hand, where I was watching the game and do all this and see what people were talking about on Twitter ... it would make the game even more fun because now I'm connected with all the people I care about being connected with while I'm in the moment,'" he said.

That was the beginning of SportStream, a free application for the iPad that was just approved by Apple and went live on Thursday. The new program offers curated Twitter feeds for major games that focus on posts from the most popular users based on an evolving credibility database. Fans also can check into games on Facebook and invite friends, as well as talk trash with others in another area of the app.

"The concept is to enhance the live sports viewing experience rather than replace it," Hunsinger said. "Sports are inherently social. We want to connect friends, fans and foes, if you will, around the game action and enhance the viewing experience by allowing people to connect on whatever and socialize and consume the game conversation at whatever level that they're comfortable with."

Hunsinger received a big lift from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen right after he came up with the idea for SportService. The billionaire owner of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers and NFL's Seattle Seahawks funded the new company with a $3.5 million investment through his firm, Vulcan Inc.

Hunsinger and Allen are betting on sports becoming even more intertwined with social media in the future.

"I think actually we're just on the front edge of a wave," Hunsinger said. "I think that it's going to continue to explode."

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