Apple Crushing Google in the Battle for Sports Fans

When it comes to sports and smartphones, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) dominates Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) . According to a recent study from Opera Mediaworks, more than seven out of 10 baseball fans and six of 10 hockey fans prefer iOS-equipped devices over Android and other alternatives. 

In terms of ad requests made by individual users, Google's operating system captures just 30% of all hockey-related traffic and about 20% of baseball traffic.

Opera chose not to analyze football or basketball, but in a way, the comparison of baseball and hockey is perfect. They're polar opposites in the sporting world, both in terms of popularity and season dates. 

After looking at the data, I found myself pondering the following questions:

  • Why is Apple the winner in both sports?
  • Why is Apple's advantage larger in baseball?
  • How does sports compare to other genres?

Let's analyze all three.

Why Apple wins in both sports

First, why is Apple the winner in both sports? Because of engagement. This is why Apple leads Google in traffic not just in hockey and baseball, but in the broader mobile marketplace. It's estimated that iOS accounts for 45% of all mobile traffic, while Google's Android has a 30% stake.

As I talked about last week, iOS users simply interact with their devices more than Android users, and it stems from the design of Apple's operating system. Plenty of studies point to this conclusion, from Opera's work to analysis from BI Intelligence. Even IBM  (NYSE: IBM  ) 's Black Friday data shows that Apple trumps Google in terms of monetization, a natural result of better user engagement.

It's also important to mention that since 2009, MLB.TV and NHL GameCenter have allowed fans to buy streaming video access to both sports in one package. Both services are compatible with most versions of iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Apple TV, which syncs with iOS devices, also works with MLB.TV and NHL GameCenter. Until the launch of Chromecast less than five months ago, Google had provided no such TV-based alternative. This may also partially explain why iOS leads Android here.

Why Apple's advantage is larger in baseball

Now, this may be the most interesting question. The data shows that baseball fans prefer iOS more than their hockey-loving peers.

As Puff Daddy might say, it's all about the apps, baby. Apple offers a more robust selection of baseball apps than hockey apps. A quick stroll through the Apple App Store shows that of the 200-plus most popular sports apps, 12 are focused on baseball. Only three are related to hockey. The company's highest-grossing sports app, in fact, is perennially 'At Bat' by the MLB, according to Forbes.

Image via Steve Lyon, Flickr.

Because of the quantity of apps available, baseball fans are more compelled to use an iOS-equipped device. Hockey offers fewer reasons why anyone would need Apple's operating system over Android.

Comparing sports to other genres

Unfortunately, I couldn't find data on specific device usage in other topic areas like music, movies, or games. As mentioned above, though, iOS does have an advantage over Android in the entire mobile space. This tells us something: the gap between Apple and Google is larger in sports than other genres on average. Remember, iOS accounts for 75% of baseball traffic and 60% of hockey traffic compared to Android's 20% of baseball and 30% of hockey traffic.

Why has this happened? Because sports itself is a highly monetized area. In Opera's report, sports generates almost 20% of all ad revenues on just 7% of ad impressions. This can be seen in the graph below.

Source: Opera Mediaworks.

In less efficient areas like social and games, this ratio is significantly smaller, and sometimes inverted. Theories vary on why sports monetization is so high, but again, it comes down to the apps.

Large publishers like the MLB, NHL, Disney's  (NYSE: DIS  )  ESPN and Yahoo! place major importance on apps as a way to extend their brand. Streaming video, up-to-the-minute scores, and fantasy sports integration are a few of the biggest growth drivers.

The future

Going forward, I don't expect the gap between Apple and Google to disappear any time soon. Mobile traffic will always be determined by user engagement, and that's a battle iOS is winning by a significant margin.

In the highly monetized world of sports, Apple's dominance is even more visible, and it makes sense. Baseball in particular gives fans a variety of apps to interact with, and iOS offers the perfect platform to do so. By increasing the number of apps offered in lesser developed sports like hockey, Apple could actually increase its lead over Google.

Suggesting a multi-billion dollar tech giant should focus more on hockey? That's a recommendation I never thought I'd make.

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