Chad Ochocinco started it.
Dwight Howard, Jared Allen and Terrell Owens will soon follow suit.
The iPhone application continues to cometh for the athlete.
Back in October, I wrote about the Cincinnati Bengals receiver's foray into the iPhone app world. He claimed to be the first athlete with such technology branded after him, but that wasn't quite true: Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh already had his own, and New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez also had one before Ochocinco's launched, though it's no longer available.
But Ochocinco's wide appeal and charm, matched with his marketing and branding prowess in the social media world, has made his app the tipping point in the market and has turned him into a bit of a pioneer: according to Rock Software CEO John Shahidi, the application recently eclipsed the 250,000 download mark. (Rock Software created Ochocinco's app.) And at least in part because of this, the company has lined up the aforementioned trio of athletes for their own iPhone applications.
"Being that the app world is so new, it was tough to put together realistic projections," says Jordan Palmer, Bengals backup quarterback and a partner in Rock Software who facilitated the relationship between Ochocinco and the company. "But we felt that if we combined Chad's national appeal with a quality product we would see some big numbers. It has been very exciting to see the reach this platform affords athletes such as Chad.
"Our currency is exposure. Chad's application has proven that expanding your reach and building your brand can be viable through mobile applications."
The last point is an important distinction to make. There's little argument against the idea that an athlete tweeting or blogging or livestreaming has brought them closer to the fan; it's been an easy, engaging way to expand their reach and build their brand. But the iPhone app? It's somewhat foreign territory, yet Ochocinco's app has proven if you can mix that same personality and brand in with a different technology that's equally accessible to fans, people will download it. Now, other athletes are giving it a whirl to see if they can duplicate Ochocinco's success. And the app world has the opportunity for profit, something that isn't as much the case with Twitter.
To that end, Palmer says the apps for Howard, Allen and Owens will closely align with their personal brands.
"We do not want to make cookie-cutter applications," he says.
Howard's upcoming application will be largely based on the Orlando Magic center's well-known sense of humor by featuring a joke of the day. And he'll be able to have a live video feed through the app, something that will be added to a future incarnation of Ochocinco's app. Owens' will revolve around the Buffalo Bills receiver's penchant for fashion and workout routine. Allen's will be centered on the Minnesota Vikings defensive end's love of hunting and his "Mullet Militia" lifestyle.
Rock Software's apps aren't the only place in which athletes are tackling the mobile scene, a market I wrote would be emerging in 2010. Last week, Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams shut down his Twitter account in favor of focusing on deronwilliams.mobi with McClaren Sports, his representation team. The site will be compatible across all smartphones, and the idea is to expand the reach of deronwillams.com and get updates straight to your phone.
Right now, Twitter, and anything else done online, is still king in the athlete technology world. Many more people have access to the Internet on their home or work computers than have iPhones or smartphones. And it's easier for an athlete to hop on Twitter than to have an iPhone application built. You can sign up for Twitter in a few seconds and it's free; an iPhone app takes longer to plan and create and has labor involved. But as smartphones continue to become more widespread in the mobile landscape, it's likely so too will athletes continue to integrate their personality and brand with technology specifically catered to them.
Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.