Heineken App Mixes Gaming, Social Media With Live Sports

heineken-starplayerHeineken recognized two common behaviors of fans watching soccer and other live sporting events. One, they drink beer. Two, they surf the web and send messages on their mobile phone or laptop about the game, an activity called dual screening.

Working with its agency AKQA in London, the brand decided to connect those activities with the Heineken StarPlayer app, which is tied to the beer company’s sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League matches. The free app, available in the iTunes app store and on Facebook, allows multi-tasking fans around the world to compete and communicate with each other in real-time online as they follow the live football (soccer to Americans) matches.

Launched in time for the April 27 semi-championship game between Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Heineken StarPlayer app can be played on a computer, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It is available until the final UCL game at the end of May.

If it catches on, we can expect other marketers to craft branded game apps that are played in synch with live televised sports by individuals or groups.

Using new dual screen technology, the Heineken StarPlayer soccer app works like this: Users create a simple profile in advance and the app opens for play just before the UCL match starts. The app timer instantly synchs with the timer of the televised game and offers users chances to predict what will happen on the field in the next 30 seconds. Correct predictions earn points, with the earlier the prediction, the higher the points. People can also win points by answering random trivia questions about sports or Heineken-related topics.


Social interaction is a key element. Players can join a league with friends and check their friend’s real-time scores against their own. Badges are awarded for high point scores and are visible to others on the user’s profile. Players can also publish their individual and league results on Facebook.

The league capability caught on quickly. It expanded beyond groups of friends and was picked up by bloggers and online sports magazines, such as U.K.’s “A Different League,” which set up its own subscriber group.

Rather than detract from the action on the field, the app is meant to transform the actual match into a live branded online game played by spectators among themselves. “We wanted to put people into the game,” according to James Hilton, AKQA co-founder and chief creative director.

In the past, media outlets – rather than marketers – have tried to drum up viewership and increase engagement with programming by tapping people who watch multiple screens at the same time. During the Oscars, for instance, viewers could see real-time backstage activities streamed online as they watched the ceremony on TV. Jeff Probst, the host of TV show “Survivor,” used Twitter to talk with fans during the show’s season premiere. But while social, these efforts don’t generally include competition among the audience.

Research backs up the trend that TV viewing is no longer passive. A Deloitte survey, conducted in late 2010, showed nearly three-quarters of American adults and teens are multitasking while watching TV. About 42 percent surf the web while watching TV, 26 percent send instant messages or texts, and about 30 percent talk on mobile phones while watching television, per the study.

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