Experience Designer

Designing for Sports


Designing for Sports Media


This white paper investigates the changing landscape of sports media, the rise of TV everywhere, the psychology of fandom, and the resulting implications for UX and UI design. Read the original (pdf - 10mb).


4 Sports fans and their behaviours

5 UX / UI considerations

6 Making sense of it all

1 Why sport matters

2 The rise of OTT

3 Designing for sports

Why sport matters

Designing for fans on the move

Successful sports products and services cater to hardened enthusiasts and committed casuals alike. How are advances in new technology and services affecting sports fans’ experience of the game, and expectations around content?

We explore what this means when designing for sports services & platforms.

For the love of the game

Much like religion, sports fill an innate human need for communal experiences. Sports fandom and live games have become social rituals like weddings and graduations – a vehicle for hope, anticipation, excitement, connection and shared memories. Finding a way to tap into these feelings and underlying needs will keep sports fans – from obsessive to casual – engaged and returning. Sports events should be seen as social gatherings. With people often remembering who they went with and the atmosphere, over who scored, the surrounding experience can be more memorable than the game itself.

Sports fill a need for human connection and belonging

Psychology of winning

A team win or national victory can even have lasting effects. A 1998 study on sports spectators found that testosterone levels increased about 20% in fans of winning teams and decreased about 20% in fans of losing teams.1 Separate research done by Professor Edward Hirt of Indiana University demonstrated that on the day after a team’s victory, sports fans feel better about themselves - their self-esteem rises and falls with their team’s scores. “After a win, diehard fans are more optimistic about their personal sex appeal and their ability to perform well at mental or physical tests. When the team lost, that optimism evaporated.”(2) Researchers believe that this rush of euphoria and stress could be as addictive as gambling for some people.


All about live

Fans love to watch the action play by play. For many spectators watching a game after the fact can erode some of the drama, so live will always be the first choice. However, for displaced audiences in ill-fated time zones, or those with work and other commitments, sports on demand and catch up deliver convenient access to important games that might otherwise be missed.

When’s the game?

As sports have grown in profile and garnered fans internationally, the fan base has become globally scattered. This means time zones are an unavoidable hurdle to consuming live sports programming. World Cups and the Olympics move location every four years. Most UEFA Champions League and English Premier League games are midweek contests played in Europe’s prime time — which is afternoon in North and South America when most people are at work.

While live is number one, there will always be a need for catch up and time shifted content

It’s one thing to stay up late or get up early for an important game, but if a match is live during working hours, short of quietly streaming or listening in on radio, many users have little choice but to resort to on demand content.

Consumers of US sports outside of the Americas across Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world have to make similar concessions. So, while live is the number one experience for sports, watch later and time shifted content will always have an important use case to fill.

The rise of OTT

OTT (over the top, set top box and subscription streaming) have become a major challenge to broadcasters

OTT (over the top, set top box and subscription streaming) have become a major challenge to broadcasters

Live sports and pay TV

Live sports is one of the main drivers of subscription for pay TV models, however, the landscape is starting to shift as consumers wake up to the burgeoning options available and are starting to demand greater bang for their buck. Sports fans are gravitating towards live streamed sports in part due to a rejection of the high pricing of traditional subscription TV packages, where sports bundles are the premium option.

Spectators are increasingly moving online to access their favourite sports, initially as an add on to a legacy subscription package. As online streaming options for sports become more established we will see more customers replacing pay TV with online only platforms. Online sports offer a greater level of interactivity and inclusion that can be hard to match in the linear TV model. With streaming and OTT (over the top) platforms, a fan can enjoy the match at home alone, or on the go, have content tailored to their interests, and still feel as if they’re part of the crowd via Twitter and comments feeds.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

While established networks still have a majority hold over sports broadcast rights (around 90% of coverage in the US), pay TV subscriber numbers are in steep decline. Premium content packages have slowly drifted towards a $200/month price point despite limited increases in service for viewers. Just as iTunes and Spotify disrupted the album, new SVOD and online only channels have been winning over viewers from pay TV.

Some media conglomerates have bet on competing with their own business model in order to stay in the game, and the results are promising. Hulu – a video streaming service jointly owned by Fox, Disney and NBC Universal will soon offer live TV and sports channels at around a quarter of the cost. By having eggs in each basket, media companies can better reposition their offerings in line with changing consumer expectations.

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Transforming sports viewership

Classically 18 – 34 has been the key demographic for TV viewership, perceived as a lucrative target market for advertising spend. However, this age group now exhibits the lowest TV ownership and cable TV subscriptions in generations. “While the percentage of occupied U.S. TV households without pay TV service—now about 17%—is continuing to increase, millennials (ages 18-34) are significantly less likely to subscribe (72%) than consumers over 35 (86%). Millennial consumers represent just 20% of pay TV subscribers but make up 37% of consumers who have either dropped their multichannel video subscription (“cordcutters”) or eschew pay TV altogether (“cord-nevers”).”(4)

Sports broadcasters are essentially content aggregators and distribution channels. Scale and variety matters in a portfolio, because rights come and go, and sports’ popularity fluctuates. In 2016 NFL’s Sunday Night Football viewership was at a nine year low on NBC, down 26% from the previous year. Major League Baseball was the only sport in 2016 where viewership ratings did not decline, largely in part to its older fan base (over 50s), where cord cutting is less common.

Many traditional sports know they can depend on older audiences for viewership for now, but realise they need to make changes to win over new fans to continue to thrive. Sports that take the longest to complete a game or match – such as cricket and baseball, are struggling to attract time poor and low attention span Millennials and Generation Z. Even the NFL – sometimes referred to as the No Fun League - recently lifted the 2016 crackdown on touchdown victory dances in a bid to appeal more to younger audiences.

Millennials represent just 20% of pay TV subscribers

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Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) adds live sports

OTT devices and platforms – Apple TV, Roku etc., now account for nearly 40% of live sports streaming. 48% of viewers now watch on laptop/desktop. Twitter, Amazon, Facebook and YouTube are all investing in new streaming technology and media rights for sports. Video on demand (VOD) giants Hulu and Amazon are adding live sports to their service offerings, but Netflix is sticking with VOD, preferring not to dilute their position as specialist in drama on demand. YouTube – pre-game, post-game Sports fans now have a plethora of content to indulge in.

Building momentum around live events

Beyond the pay TV and streaming options, people are increasingly turning to YouTube for value-add content that they can’t get elsewhere, and build up excitement before major events. From locker room interviews, post-match highlights and analysis, ask me anything style live stream interviews, and even fitness instruction. Eager fans can dive deeper into the stories of their favourite athletes, find out more about niche sports, and study techniques and trick shots.

Among YouTube viewers  (8)

Among YouTube viewers (8)


Designing for Sports

Flexibility first

Unless an app or website caters to a specific sport, the design may need to accommodate a wide variety of leagues, federations and tournaments. Timing of seasons, numbers of players or athletes, and sequence and scale of events differ substantially between sports.



  • Events throughout the year

  • Events occur during the entire tournament with few finals

  • Two or four participants per match

Football / Soccer

Football / Soccer

  • Greater seasonal dependency

  • Often played during weekends

  • Multiple concurrent events

  • Many participants per event


Pacing may be affected by the type of sport



Race-based events are interesting during the race, peaking at the end of the race. Some races may be more interesting than others because a favoured athlete, or key rivalry, is making an appearance.

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Team sports, head to head such as Football or Basketball are most engaging during breakaways - moments when a team is attempting to score.

Or by athlete performance

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When it’s obvious who will be victorious, interest in the event may dwindle.

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But when the competition is close, attention tends to soar.

Attention and interest levels peak at certain points during an event


Rhythm of the game

Different sporting events also vary in pace, with attention levels rising and falling in line with the action on the field or in the ring. Many sports feature long build ups for short bursts of action, like NFL or the 100m sprint. Closely fought contests engage spectators more intensely than clear victories. These lulls in energy or attention can be opportunities for sports focused apps to provide contextual information in real time.

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  • Catch up

  • Analysis

  • Next event


  • Live now

  • Banter/social

  • Catchup & stats

  • Coming up


  • Coming up

  • Punditry

Event life cycles

Despite clear difference between the sports, there are similarities at the core of the spectator experience. Pre-game anticipation & build up gives rise to the high of the event, often followed by reflection & analysis. Facilitating ways to share the ebb & flow of these experiences allows people to connect through sport in ways that are meaningful and memorable.

Building excitement

Previews, notifications & reminders will bring users back & ensure they see it all.

Balancing live vs on-demand

The ratio of pre, live & post event content will ebb and flow during the week. It’s important the user experience does the same.

Rich live experience

Users will want more than just the livestream of an event. Fans may need to switch devices mid-event, watch replays before the event is over, banter with fellow fans, and share the experience with friends.

Event life cycles help build anticipation and engagement

Event life cycles help build anticipation and engagement


Best practices for content discoverability

  • Default to ‘live now’ to get users straight into their game of choice with one tap

  • Localise the feed to meet most users’ needs in your region

  • Cater to displaced fans with time shifted and ‘no spoiler’ options

  • Let users personalise their feed or customise navigation to cater to different sports followers. E.g. hiding sports modules in the feed, filters

  • List upcoming games, tailored to the user’s interests and activity – with shortcuts to add reminders

  • Allow users to customise push notifications to set reminders for events (on soon, on now), and deactivate final scores notifications if they need to catch up later

  • Provide key details and overview for casual users, and in depth information and analysis for hardened fans. E.g. swiping for more detail or between articles

  • Featured catch ups to tell users what they’ve missed, avoid spoilers at all cost

  • Use visual cues for gold medal or match favourites and trending at a glance

  • Provide one tap access straight into featured events, from any level of the UI

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Sports fans and their behaviours

Key personas

To fully understand how sports fans’ needs differ when it comes to designing a UI, we need to break down the demographic by values and behaviours.


Sports bring people together in numerous ways. The Fanatic has their team ingrained into their identity – for them sport represents belonging and community. This hardened supporter attends games often, has multiple sports focus apps on their phone and smart TV, subscribes to pay TV for the full sports package. Detailed and obsessive in their knowledge of their team(s), they are a core target market for any sports focus platform or channel.

Latest Stats

The Latest Stats sports fan is more a general enthusiast. Not especially loyal to any one team, they enjoy staying abreast of recent developments to keep informed. To them sports are a key conversation topic for friendly debate. This fan values accurate information and key stories over intense scrutiny of the game.

Committed Casual

The Committed Casual inherited his allegiances from his immediate family. He grew up watching the game, but remembers more about the family days to the stadium than goals scored. He’s a fan by default, but doesn’t follow as closely these days now that other interests are taking priority. He still likes to watch the semis or finals back home when his team makes it through. His team connects him to his roots.

Main Eventer

The Main Eventer isn’t a major sports fan, but enjoys the atmosphere at grand finals, or State of Origin games, even if it’s only at the pub. She doesn’t follow a specific team but enjoys watching some of the popular sports in the Olympics, a few World Cup games, or dressing up for the races. Sports are ultimately a social gathering and great way to catch up with friends.

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Successful sports platforms typically need to be flexible in accommodating multiple types of sports, while also catering to both superfans and casual enthusiasts.

UX / UI Considerations

Consider the journey

Successful sports platforms typically need to be flexible in accommodating multiple types of sports, while also catering to both super-fans and casual enthusiasts alike through passive and active personalisation of content. Let users jump straight into live content while also surfacing pathways to more in-depth information for those who want the full story. Finally, consider where a spectator is in their journey of engaging with an event – build up, in the moment, or post-match reflection – hiding, displaying or sorting content modules based on what’s important at that point in time

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Sports on Mobile - Lean Back vs. Lean Forward



Should focus on the viewing experience with a larger video player at the top whilst showing individual content updates at the bottom of the screen that can easily be skimmed without disrupting the viewing experience.

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Should put greater emphasis on the additional content by displaying more of it on the screen and a smaller full-width video player at the top, allowing the user to easily switch between active and passive viewing/reading.

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Should allow the user to immerse themselves in the video experience with lightweight additional information. Should support passive viewing where no interactions are required.

Lean back is best supported in landscape.

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Should focus on allowing the user to engage with the additional information in more detail whilst at the same time being able to watch or keep an eye on the video, and vice versa.

Lean in is best supported in portrait.


Be where the fans are watching

Mobile is the fastest-growing platform from a sports content perspective, especially for younger fans. Mobile devices are already tied with computers as the second most popular platform for consuming sports content, after TV. 65% of Generation Z and younger Millennial fans are consuming sports content on a mobile device.

Many established sports broadcasters like NBC, CBS, FOX and ESPN have already launched their own apps and platforms to compete in the OTT space. Mobile apps bring sports content to users on the move, providing a user-lead, or lean forward, experience in contrast to the passive, or lean back, experience of linear TV.

Making sense of it all

How is the sports experience is changing, and how does that affect designing UI for sports?

Meet expectations

Legacy broadcasters need to embrace OTT to get their content to viewers and stay in the game. Consumers now expect high-quality TV everywhere and sport is no exception. Catch up and on demand services deliver sports to users whenever and wherever they want. OTT platforms and services need to compete on exceptional user experience to succeed in the crowded streaming and VOD arena. If a user is frustrated by sign up processes, lack of features, or the game freezes or cuts out, they will always go elsewhere to get what they want, and many will be vocal in their feedback.

Over-the-top platforms and services need to compete on exceptional user experience to succeed in the crowded streaming and video on demand arena

And then exceed them

By moving online, fans can follow their teams more easily than ever. Machine learning can passively personalise feeds based on individual user habits and behaviours. Operators can adapt content for pre-game, in-game and post-game to enhance emotional journey at the heart of live sport. Customisation options can support users to actively choose their level of engagement with different sports, alerts and reminders, tailoring the experience to their specific needs. Ultimately, sports buffs are simply seeking access to live coverage and recap, in ways that are convenient to them, at a reasonable price point. Products and services that recognise this opportunity and can enthusiastically meet these criteria will attract loyal followings.

Key takeaways

  • Sort, hide or display content modules according to pregame, during, and postgame needs

  • Visual cues can be used as triggers, so that at a glance, a user can understand how a stream may be relevant to them

  • Showcase instant replays and highlights so viewers can re-watch key moments

  • Video highlights of top players and athletes in action

  • Provide closed captioning for universal access

  • Include live reporting, commentary and twitter feed alongside the live event as it happens

  • List latest news, live scores and stats

  • Push team focused new notifications on match day to stoke pre-game engagement

  • Provide sortable league tables where users can track their teams and athletes

  • Make use of established patterns – pull down to refresh, turn horizontal for full screen

Consider where a spectator is in their journey of engaging with an event – build up, in the moment, or post-match reflection


This paper was researched and written in 2017, while at Massive.


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