YES Network has introduced a host of new features and content elements to the YES App over the last year-plus, working to build the mobile application into a daily digital destination for New York sports fans.
And this new in-game, single-screen, watch-and-play experience—which includes overlays of live stats and a watch-party functionality—seems to be delivering the desired results. The RSN reports daily user registrations are up 45% year-over-year season to date; the total number hours viewed on the app is up 83%; unique viewers per game have climbed 33%; and the time spent per unique viewer has risen 10%.
The data shows the regional sports network has grown “the top of funnel with respect to registrations, viewership and time spent watching, but also engagement in the actual individual features we’ve introduced,” said Matt Duarte (VP, strategy & business development, YES Network).
The media executive was not prepared to call YES’ approach to streaming the blueprint all sports broadcast networks should follow, in part because it’s constantly changing. But Duarte said there are core tenets to the YES app experience that are likely to be replicated in the years ahead. “The elements that are [going to be] important for watching in the future [include] the ability to personalize your viewing experience, the flexibility to watch content whenever, wherever, and the community [viewership] aspect.”
JWS’ Take: The Yankees own the best record in baseball this season, so it’s fair to assume the team’s success has been a factor in the growth metrics. But Duarte firmly believes the increased adoption and engagement is a byproduct of the different ways that you can watch the games with the YES app. (FWIW, I recently caught a game on the YES Network app with Duarte and wondered how I ever watched sports without live stats overlays and watch-party functionality.)
YES reached a streaming crossroads in 2020, when the RSN’s deal with Fox Sports Go expired. It needed to decide between using Bally’s authenticated streaming platform (remember, this was prior to Bally Sports+) or build its own white-label mobile application. YES ultimately chose the latter.
“We just felt the power of our brands, our market, especially the Yankees fan base, deserved its own entity,” Duarte said. “[One] that had the ability to build best in class features and introduce new elements.”
By building its own app, YES would also be able to ensure it owned the relationships and data associated with mobile viewers. “We felt it was important to [have] more data and deeper data to inform our individual decisions [regarding the product and experience],” Duarte said. There are no plans to package and sell any of the data it collects.
The YES app remains authenticated, which means it does not generate standalone subscription fees. The RSN converts the additional time viewers spend on the platform into revenue via advertising units served. “If someone is watching with us for more time, more minutes per game, we’re serving them more ads with respect to pre-roll as well during the game,” Duarte said. “We also have ad units throughout the app.” Increased viewership and engagement drives unit prices higher.
The newly introduced broadcast elements create new sponsorship inventory for the RSN, too. The YES ad sales team has sold sponsorship of the live stat overlay package to T-Mobile for the first third of the season and Molson-Coors for the second.
YES has methodically introduced a trio of elements over the last year. First up was the live stats package (powered by Ease Live). “Last year, we had [the overlays] more as an in-game, play-by-play tool. This year we [added] a live pitch cast where you can see different locations of pitches, types of pitches, MPH, etc.,” Duarte explained. The number of live stats impressions per game (i.e., the count of how many times users launch the Live Stats overlay) is up 62% since the feature was added last June.
In October, YES rolled out a watch-party feature (powered by Sceenic), which enables fans to participate in a live video chat alongside three friends as an overlay to the live broadcast. Three-user watch parties maintain an average session length of more than 30 minutes. “People want to watch together,” Duarte said. “That has always been an aspect of sports, and this provides [fans with] a digital way to do it.”
Stats overlays and watch parties have been done before (granted, most traditional sports broadcasters remain focused on simply streaming the linear network). The same cannot be said about the YES Pick-N-Play Live functionality. Back in May, the RSN became the first broadcast network—on a regional or national level—to allow viewers to make live predictions around in-game occurrences. SimpleBet powers the offering. “There’s no other entity [providing a] single-screen experience where you can watch and [simultaneously] play a free-to-play game,” Duarte said.
It should be noted that Tappp made single-screen, real-money sports betting a reality for the first time in the U.S. during the final weekend of Major League Rugby’s 2022 season at the end of June.
The fans’ reaction to the interactive game has been noteworthy.
“Since launch, Pick-N-Play Live average users per game has increased 13% month-over-month and had a 40% retention rate after 14 days (i.e., 40% of users are on average playing the game again 14 days after their first use). Time spent per unique Yankees game streamer has also grown 7.3% month-over-month since the launch of PNP Live. Additionally, the number of actions placed per user per Yankees game exceeds 40, translating to between 4 and 5 per inning, which we think is pretty meaningful engagement,” Duarte said.
YES plans to introduce more markets and more opportunities to place free actions on different parts of the game moving forward. “[The game presents YES with] new sponsorship opportunities, but also the ability to generate and analyze incremental data on the user’s engagement habits that will be very valuable in any future revenue generating opportunities we choose to pursue with our sports betting partners,” Duarte said.
SimpleBet was encouraged by the power of the single screen experience. “We didn’t know how skinny-ing down the markets, [which is necessary due to latency issues], would translate,” Chris Bevilacqua, the co-founder and CEO of SimpleBet, said. “But even with the limitations, we averaged 40-plus predictions per user per game. If you had that kind of volume in real-money betting, that would be astronomical, it would be off the charts.”
Of course, not every fan watching games on the YES Network app wants to participate in the free micro-wagering game. The customizable nature of the application allows fans to personalize the viewing experience to their liking. All the features and functionalities included within are designed to appear as if they are part of the RSN’s linear broadcast.