App Review: Buffalo Sabres Official App
First teased during the early days of the online suggestion box, the Buffalo Sabres have finally released their official app to the world! Predictably-titled “Buffalo Sabres Official App”, the mobile application built by B3Connect is available for iOS (App Store link), Android (Android Market link), and BlackBerry (Coming soon to App World!). Hit the jump for a breakdown of the app’s features and functionality, what could use some work, and a list of known bugs!
(Disclaimer: My review of Buffalo Sabres Official App was conducted using an HTC Evo 4G running CyanogenMod 7.1.0, which is a variant of Android 2.3.7. The Android version of the app is likely identical in operation and appearance as the iOS version. The BlackBerry version may differ in appearance from the Android and iOS versions as the BlackBerry OS runs on both full touchscreen and half-sized non-touchscreen devices. I will updated my review to include links to both an iOS review and, when it’s available to users, a BlackBerry review.)
(Update: After perusing some apps by other teams in the NHL, it looks like B3Connect assembles a just-add-water package for every team that’s virtually identical. Seems like the only difference is the Sabres don’t have any ice girls to include in the Fan Zone section, much to the chagrin of some fans and the delight of others.)
Buffalo Sabres Press Release
The Buffalo Sabres today announced the release of the team’s official mobile application across the three major mobile platforms: iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. The free app – which can be downloaded now on iTunes, the Android Market and BlackBerry App World – includes a wide range of features designed to keep fans connected to the team through their mobile devices.
“Sabres fans are notorious for their passion and they are constantly looking for ways to stay connected to the team they love,” said Sabres Vice President of Brand Strategy & Marketing Brent Rossi. “We’ve designed an app with that in mind and we think this will definitely improve the overall experience fans have with the team.”
The app includes 10 separate sections, with each one featuring a multitude of functions.
A live, in-game section will provide real-time statistical information during all Sabres games. Player and team stats will be updated automatically through the NHL HITS stats package. Other sections will have detailed player biographical information, as well as current league standings and scores.
Fans will be able to access the latest Sabres news through a media section that includes photo and video galleries and RSS feeds that update every time a news story is published to the official team website, http://www.sabres.com.
Additional sections will give fans an easier way to access the team schedule, purchase tickets, navigate maps of First Niagara Center and take advantage of special promotions for tickets, food and merchandise while attending games. A fan zone section will also allow fans to access music and games and provide easier access to the team’s official Facebook and Twitter pages.
“The Sabres app really does offer something for every type of fan,” Rossi said. “Sabres fans can now access team content 24/7 – whether they’re at the arena watching a game or watching from their couch at home.”
In The Beginning…
To get started, Sabres fans, you’ll need to make sure you have the right OS version running on your phones so you can install the app. For iOS devices, that means iOS 4.3 or later. For Android devices, that means Android 2.1 or later. Make sure you’ve got 11.1MB available on your iOS device and 7.3MB available on your Android device. You can either install it from your device or do so from your app market’s website (links found before the jump). Find the icon, tap-tap-tap away, and wait for the app to load.
The Live In-Game section of the app is very nice. It features three tabs – Match Up, Boxscore, and Game Stats – all updated with different media and real-time stats.
First is Match Up, which aggregates preview videos, breaks down the opponent, details key match ups, clues fans in on what to watch, and details the history between the Sabres and their foes.
Next is Boxscore, which handles all the general game stats like score, shots, hits, penalties, and faceoffs as well as including a play-by-play box that updates on the go with detailed descriptions of shots, scoring plays, and penalties.
Lastly in Live In-Game is the Game Stats tab which features a diagram of the ice that shows the location of shots, goals, hits, and penalties. The user can toggle which team’s stats are displayed, which grouping of stats are displayed, and can isolate them by period. Also included is a breakdown by player of all the individual stats for each Sabre.
The Media section of the app is divided into four tabs – All Media, News, Videos, and Photos. This section is a glorified RSS reader specifically for Sabres-generated content.
All Media speaks for itself, aggregating all news stories, videos, and photo galleries into one handy list.
The News tab is also self-explanatory, displaying all news stories organized chronologically by into two categories – Last 7 Days and Older Post. I don’t have to explain those.
The Videos tab. Videos are organized into three categories – Most Recent, Last 7 Days, and Older Post. Each video’s thumbnail includes the length of the video. Videos, streamed in hi-resolution, can only be viewed in landscape mode.
The Photos tab is set up just like the News tab, dividing galleries into Last 7 Days and Older Post categories. Each gallery’s description includes photo count in that gallery.
Each individual gallery is organized into a vertical scrolling tile format.
Individual photos can be viewed in either portrait mode, with a description of the photo, or in landscape mode. Unlike the videos, photos are not hi-resolution.
The Player Info section organizes the roster into a list which can be sorted by ascending or descending number as well as alphabetically by ascending or descending first name.
Each player’s page features a full-screen photo of the player as well as vertically-scrolling career stats.
Standings & Scores
The Standings tab in Standings & Scores displays the Sabres’ place in the league broken down by division or by conference.
The Scores tab breaks down each final score for every game the Sabres have played this season, including preseason games played in September.
First Niagara Center
The First Niagara Center section of the app is excellent for a few different reasons.
The Arena Map in the First Niagara Center section is an interactive, pinch-to-zoom map that features the location of every concession stand in the arena. Stands can also be viewed in a list format instead. Wouldn’t it be cool if the Flying Bison stand got its own dot on the map?
The Parking Map shows a small map of the surrounding area with arena lots marked and includes pricing information as well as the location of unaffiliated lots.
Upcoming Events provides an upcoming calendar of events at FNC organized into This Month, Next Month, and by month after that. Each event includes links to call the arena for tickets, buy online, and get more information on that event.
The Tickets section, organizing games by month, lets you buy tickets to each game. Once you click the game you want, you’re given the option to either buy online or call the arena to buy by phone. If you choose to buy by phone, the app redirects you to your phone’s dialer.
If you opt to buy online, the app directs you to Tickets.com’s site so you can complete your purchase from there.
The Promotions section of the app is one of ultimate convenience. It collects all of the different ticket bundles, Sabres Store sales, and food and arena specials for the bargain hunter to peruse. This section is divided into Tickets, Store, Food, and Special tabs. From each tab, you can select which special you want information on then decide whether to call the arena with interest or buy online.
The Fan Zone section collects various interactive and social media functions together under one umbrealla. This aspect of the fan experience is one the organization has worked on quite a bit lately, with #SabreTunes and other hashtag-derived promotions being big hits on Twitter.
The Power Lineup is a simple, plus/minus-based fantasy-type game for Sabres fans and is now accessible from the Sabres mobile app. I don’t play it, so I won’t go into specifics.
The Music part of the Fan Zone section lets fans stream the team’s current goal song (which is the exceedingly-infectious “Lonely Boy” by the Black Keys) as well as songs played during both warm-ups and the game.
The Wallpaper gallery includes a team wallpaper for your smartphone as well as for each player on the team in hi-resolution. The team wallpaper, which is also the app’s splash image, is particularly sharp.
The Social Settings bit of the Fan Zone lets you log into both Facebook and Twitter so you can share videos, photos, and event listings on the social networks.
What Needs Tweaking?
Implement radio streaming: This is a no-brainer that fans are already asking for it in app reviews on the Android Market site. WGR 550 streaming, unless prohibited by the league and their various pay versions of the NHL Gamecenter app, ought to be included in the app’s first update.
Add #SabreTunes inclusion: The #SabreTunes Twitter campaign has been a success for the Sabres but is missing from the app. It would be right at home in the Fan Zone section next to the Music option.
Enhance Twitter integration: The Sabres have a solid presence on Twitter. There are a handful of players (not to mention a sizable percentage of the Amerks and plenty of prospects) that use the service as well as different PR staffers who share stats and news. Even Sabretooth has an account. It would be cool to see a list compiled by the organization that could be watched from within the app.
Optimize ticket buying for mobile devices: Buying tickets for Sabres games within the app should be easy, but once you select which game you want to attend, you’re taken to the desktop version of the Tickets.com site. It’s cumbersome to have to navigate all over the site to buy tickets to a game.
Include opposition stats: The Game Stats tab in the Live In-Game section covers all goals, shots, penalties, and hits for both teams, but only displays stats by player for the Sabres. It would be nice to be able to swipe from the Sabres to the opposing team’s stats by player and back again.
Play with notifications: Notifications are too long to fit entirely on screen unless held in landscape mode. Something simple like “Goal!” (notification title) “T Myers 1:21 1st 1-0 Sabres” and “End Of 1st” (notification title) “Sabres 1-0 Islanders. SOG BUF 13-14 NYI” would be welcome. Also, while notifications vibrate my phone, there is no LED notification to go with them.
(Update: After a short conversation with fellow Sabres blogger Brittany Champagne (Twitter – @SabresInSeven), it seems like the nofitications are set up for iOS’ more in-depth notification center instead of being localized for each OS. Simplifying the notifications would not only fit them in Android’s notifications center but would also take up less space on iOS’.)
Expand preference options: The Media section is set as the app’s landing pad but fans like customization. An option to select which section in the app is the landing pad is unnecessary but would be nice.
Android Market inconsistency: Android users are running into problems locating the app in the Android Market app but are finding it on the Android Market website. Others are seeing error messages saying the app isn’t compatible with their devices then, after refreshing the page, seeing that it is compatible. These bugs would be Android-related and nothing the Sabres could take care of.
Twitter sharing wonkiness: After logging in to share with Twitter, sharing items from the app to one’s timeline produces a tweet with no links. Peep my embedded tweet, the result of trying to share a photo from the app:
Per Sabres new media staffer Kevin Snow (Twitter – @kwsnow) the team is aware of this bug and it’s already being worked on.
Despite missing radio streaming – the app’s only glaring weakness – the long-awaited Buffalo Sabres smartphone app is a strong first effort from the organization. The play-by-play and stats update quickly in real-time and notifications are prompt. Photo resolution leaves something to be desired but videos look sharp. Some social media aspects are lacking, but news and game day content is strong. Combined with the Buffalo Bills official app, Western New York sports fans have winning smartphone options from their favorite teams even when the teams themselves aren’t doing much winning.
UPDATE: Brittany at Sabres In Seven has her review of the app up, this one from the iOS side of things.