It’s a great time of year to be a sports fan — unless of course you’re a baseball fan. We’ve got football, basketball, and hockey, and depending on the teams you follow you may have multiple games to keep track of. That can be hard to do when you’re on the go, but thankfully the iPad has several apps to help you stay on top of your game, no matter where you are.
ESPN ScoreCenter XL (Free, also available for iPhone)
If you’re a die-hard sports fan who watches SportsCenter every night and just can’t wait for the Sports page of the newspaper each morning, this is the app for you. ScoreCenter XL is designed to keep you up-to-date on every sport you follow, with scores, game recaps, in-depth news reports, and short video clips (roughly 2-3 minutes) for top stories. There are three main portions of the app, Today (with top news), myTeams (personalized coverage of your favorites) and mySports (where you can follow everything related to a particular sport).
You can of course select your favorite teams, and when you go to the myTeams section of the app you’ll see all of their logos at the top of the screen. Tap on a logo to get all of the top news and video for the team. If you’re a big college sports fan things can get a little confusing, because there is no differentiation between football and basketball — you will see two school logos at the top of the page. Hopefully a future update will add a small football or basketball next to the logo so it will be easier to tell which is which.
Recent and upcoming games appear on the left hand side of the app, no matter which section you’re in; tap on an entry to get an in-depth preview with information on key players and stats on past matchups. There’s also a ticker at the bottom, though you’ll have to be fast if you see an interesting topic. A single tap takes you to the relevant story, but it updates very frequently.
Push alerts are customizable and include game start, each scoring play, each period and final, or just the final score. There aren’t many options beyond that, but there isn’t much more that a sports fan can ask for that isn’t already here. True sports junkies should definitely download this app and check out some of ESPN’s other free iPad apps, including Map Madness and MediaZone.
NBA Game Time Courtside (Free)
The NBA Game Time Courtside app is simply fantastic, and a must-have for basketball fans. There are four main sections: games, conference standings, videos, and settings. The games section is where most of the action is, and whether you want stats on your favorite players, charts showing the location of every shot in the game, or full play-by-play coverage, it’s here.
There’s so much here, in fact, that it can be a little overwhelming at first — or perhaps that could be my ignorance showing, since I’m not much of a basketball fan. The best approach to this app is to touch everything and see what happens. Once you choose a game, you will see a box at the top of the screen with the basic info and photos of the top players in the game based on points and rebounds. Tapping those players brings up detailed stats, for the season and for their career, if you’re interested. You can slide those player photos to see the other top players for assists, blocks, steals, etc.
Below that, on the court, you’ll find more players you can tap for stats, and then four boxes where you can choose from performance zones, scoring zones, and a shot chart. Just below that is where you can dig into the full details for the game, including play-by-play commentary, team and player stats, a recap with quotes, highlights, and notable moments. The last option with the funny-looking icon is the NBA turnstile, where you can check in and see what other fans think about the game. The ticker is just below; you can tap any headline for more information.
The conference standings page is self-explanatory; you can choose between conference, division, and league standings. The video page is mostly made up of short game recaps, roughly two minutes each, with a few highlights for standout moments around the league that are usually around 15-30 seconds, so they’re quick to watch with a lot of info (or fun) packed into each one. Videos pop up in a small window by default, but a single tap brings them up to full screen. They aren’t HD quality, but they are good quality and load quickly. There are currently 97 videos available, with that selection changing on a regular basis.
Frankly it’s hard to believe that this app is free. There are ads, but they’re so minimally invasive that it’s hard to complain. During my testing all I saw was the Sprite logo in the bottom right corner of the screen, near the ticker, and it fits well since sports and advertising are so tightly integrated these days. If anything, it serves to make the experience a little more authentic! In any case, if you have any interest at all in basketball and haven’t downloaded this app yet, there just might be something wrong with you. Go get it now.
NBC Sports Talk (Free)
If you’re interested in going behind the game, for news, talk and analysis rather than scores and stats, NBC Sports Talk is the app for you. It presents all of the day’s top stories in a view that should be very familiar to users of the Pulse RSS app — horizontal columns by sport that you can swipe with your finger. Tap on a photo or headline to get the full story in a popup window on the right side of the screen. If you tap on comments, the story will load in Safari, and you can then scroll down to see the comments.
You can email individual stories if you want to archive them for your own use or share them with friends. The overall layout is nice, and though there aren’t any extra features, they aren’t really needed either. There are a couple of small ads here and there, but nothing obtrusive. If you’re a fan of sports commentary, or are already a fan of NBC Sports Talk, this is another no-brainer download.
NHL GameCenter 2010 Premium ($19.99)
The NHL GameCenter 2010 Premium app is divided into five sections: Today, News, Standings, Teams, and Players.
When you pick a game, you can see real-time updates if it is currently in progress, or listen to live game radio. If you’re looking for info on completed games, you are presented with an ice diagram that shows every shot on goal, and every goal of course, most of them in video. Tap on an icon to get the details, or to watch the relevant video. You can also narrow things down by period if you watched the game but happened to miss a particular part of it. You’ll also find box scores, photos, and even condensed game (five minutes) and full game highlights (ten minutes).
Most of the other sections are self-explanatory. The news is filed by date, with some photos, and includes information on trades and injuries, game recaps, and more. Conference standings include division, conference, and league options, while the Teams area includes the full roster, stats, and schedule for every team in the league. Tapping on a player brings up individual stats, or you can search for your favorites in the Players section. When you choose a player you can see their top plays and goals on video, which is great for following your favorite players even after they’ve been traded to another team whose games aren’t shown in your area.
This app is very well done, and though it’s similar in nature to the NBA Courtside app, it is of much better quality overall, with higher resolution video, very high quality still photos from each game, and extended game video. If you’re a true fan, $20 isn’t too much to pay. But if it is, the free version of the app includes everything except for the game video, video highlights, and live game radio. Either way, if you’re a hockey fan, NHL GameCenter has you covered.
Nike Football+ Team Edition (Free)
If you don’t read the description closely, you might be confused when you first open up the Nike Football+ Team Edition app — it isn’t about American football at all, but soccer. If you’re a player or a coach looking to improve skills, this app includes a large variety of drills, with high-quality full-screen videos that give full explanations of the reasoning behind each drill. Most of the video is not in English, but is fully subtitled with some English overlays explaining key points.
There are 41 videos from which to choose, and you can add particular drills to a customized training program. If you enter basic information about the players on your team, you can also give each player “The Ronaldo Test” based on the fastest player in the game, and track their progress throughout the season.
While aimed primarily at coaches, the video drills can certainly help any player improve their game on their own. I did experience one crash while trying to attach a photo to my team’s roster, but other than that the app performed flawlessly. Videos don’t download until the first time you access each one, which saves on space if you want to concentrate on just a few of the drills. If you’re a soccer player or coach, this is a great resource and definitely worth the free download.
Sports Illustrated (Free, individual issues available via in-app purchase)
If you’re a Sports Fan, you probably already read Sports Illustrated, so why would you want it on the iPad? Since subscription pricing isn’t available, and single issues start at $4.99 (special and double issues are slightly higher), it’s much more expensive than a print subscription. However, the app does include some extras you can’t get anywhere else, such as video, slideshows, interactive features, live news updates, and audio. You can preview each issue to decide if you want to make the purchase, which is especially helpful for fans who are only interested in particular players or sports, and only want to read a few issues each year.
I selected the most recent issue, and it took quite a while to download, even with Wi-Fi. My patience was rewarded with an excellent reading experience. Flipping through pages is as easy as swiping your finger across the screen. There aren’t many ads to distract from the content, which does make the relatively high single-issue pricing easier to swallow. The few ads that are included are actually fun, such as the Gatorade G Series Flick Football ad, which is actually a nice little game that can divert for a few minutes. Other ads such as for Lexus, AT&T, and Nissan, include video (you choose to watch, it does not load automatically), interactive features, and more.
The magazine works in both landscape and portrait mode, with seamless transitions. A short tap brings up the menu bar at the bottom of the screen, with quick access to the cover, table of contents, cover flow-style page viewer, news and scores, the store (where you can purchase additional issues) and your library of previously purchased issues.
Tapping and holding at any point brings up a selection wheel that allows you to share the article with friends via Facebook or Twitter, email it, see related photos and articles, or view player stats. The system is well implemented and a good example of how traditional media can go to the next level with useful, relevant enhancements instead of cheap gimmicks.
While subscribers may feel cheated at the prospect of having to pay for individual issues, the Sports Illustrated app does have plenty to recommend it. It seems to be especially useful for those who only pick up occasional issues at the newsstand, since each one is the same price for print or digital, or for those looking for a quick diversion when they’re on the go or on the road and need additional reading material. If you can get past the high single issue prices, you’ll likely enjoy this app.
Sports Illustrated The Football Book ($14.99)
The Football Book is a special commemorative issue of Sports Illustrated, much like the large Time-Life magazine/books you sometimes see at newsstands. It includes vintage photos, stories on historic players and coaches, and cool interactive features, and is as fun to look at as it is to read. Each interactive feature is highlighted with instructions where appropriate, so you know where to tap to hear audio commentary on vintage photos, where to press to get close-ups, etc. Controls are relatively basic beyond that; a single tap brings up a menu bar with the cover, the table of contents, and a page viewer that helps you jump to the specific articles in which you’re interested.
Now that apps are giftable items, the Sports Illustrated Football Book would make a great gift for your iPad-toting sports fan. Whether you’re a casual fan or a longtime devoted fan, there’s plenty of interesting stories and behind-the-scenes facts for you.
Sports Rule Books HD (Free, also available for iPhone)
If you need access to the official rules for a wide variety of sports, Sports Rule Books HD is a definite winner. It includes everything from NCAA college football and basketball to professional football, basketball, and baseball via quick access icons at the bottom of the screen. But if you tap the “More” button you’ll be presented with the rule book for just about every sport imaginable, including soccer, bowling, lacrosse, skiing, and water polo.
Each rule book has a table of contents so you can quickly find what you’re looking for, though there is no search function. You’ll also find photos illustrating the various hand signals that referees and officials use during the game, so you’ll never be left wondering what’s going on before the official announcement is made. It’s a useful tool for learning more about your favorite sports, or to help settle barroom challenges, and it’s free.
The SportsTap app is a hybrid between the in-depth apps available for basketball and hockey and the more general score tracking apps like ESPN ScoreCenter XL and Yahoo Sportacular. Once you pick your sport in the top left corner of the app, you’ll see recent results and upcoming days on the left, and the latest news on the right. At the bottom of the screen you’ll see options for draft news, the current standings, transactions, season leaders, team statistics, and team schedules.
Access what you’re interested by tapping on it; you can get box scores, more details on news stories, etc. Using this app was almost more frustrating than it was worth — I constantly got “Unable to connect to database. Please try refreshing” error messages. I suspect that they were somehow related to the ads on the left side of the page; I was on a strong Wi-Fi connection the entire time, but got the error so many times that I would have given up completely if I were a normal user rather than a software reviewer. It’s worth giving it a try to see if it works better for you, since it’s free, but there are better sports scores and news apps out there.
Yahoo Sportacular HD (Free, also available for iPhone)
If you’re trying to track a lot of teams, or juggle multiple sports, it’s easy to fall behind and miss out on some of the action. Sportacular aims to change all of that by presenting a great deal of information in a clear, easy-to-read format. If you’re looking for information on past games, you can read full play-by-play recaps, scoring details, and statistics, and switching from game to game is fast and easy thanks to the listing by week on the left side of the app. There is a large ad at the bottom of the page when you first start the app, but then it slides down to a much smaller profile and isn’t too intrusive.
It doesn’t cover as many sports as ESPN ScoreCenter at the moment, but the developers are planning to add more coverage in future updates. Currently you will find major league baseball, the NFL, NCAA college football, and NHL hockey. There isn’t any video available like there is in the sport-specific premium apps, but that isn’t surprising considering the somewhat unfinished nature of this app (see below).
Unfortunately there is no way to mark your favorite teams or set up push alerts for score changes and final scores like there is on the truly spectacular Sportacular iPhone app, which is a real shame. Sportacular for iPhone has been my favorite (and definitely my most used) sports app, so I’m hoping that the HD version for the iPad will gain those same features over time. As it is, I’m sticking with the iPhone app on my iPad, and suggest that you do the same until a future update brings the iPad version up to par.