Ochocinco leads charge to app store

Apple says there's an app for just about anything on their iPhone. And they're right.

I just paid $4.99 for the recently released "Chad Ochocinco Experience," and not only do I know he's currently in Cincinnati, Ohio, I can hear recorded sound bites of him saying "Kiss the baby" in English and Spanish. Yeah, I know you're jealous.

But besides Ochocinco's, only a few other athlete iPhone apps are available. Chris Bosh has one. Mark Sanchez had one, but it's since been pulled from the store. Other than that, there aren't many to be found.

So what gives? Why, when so many athletes have flocked to Twitter in 2009, has an equally buzz-worthy technology -- the iPhone app -- not been nearly as saturated?

Think of it this way: Aside from geolocation and a sound board, Ochocinco's app has his Twitter stream synced in, a news section, pre-populated tips, music he's listening to, as well as photos and video. Other than continuing to update his Twitter account -- something he already does a lot -- he doesn't have to dedicate any extra time in his day to it. It's yet another way to get his name out, which is something he always seems interested in. Plus, it's a way to connect more with fans, and at a price of $4.99 he's sure to see some money from it, in conjunction with Rock Software, the company that built that app for him. (Ochocinco's teammate Jordan Palmer is involved with Rock Software and helped facilitate the relationship.)

It seems if athletes are looking for another revenue stream, branding tool and connection to fans, the iPhone app would be a no-brainer.

But it's not so easy.

First, unlike a Twitter account that takes seconds to set up, there's much more work involved with an iPhone application: Money needs to be spent on development, time needs to be spent on what it will entail, and it could take a couple of months to build and then have it approved by Apple.

"It takes time and money, and especially the guys that are in season right now, I can see why they're not jumping on it so quickly," said Gail Sideman, the owner-publicist at Publiside, a company that specializes in generating exposure for sports and authors.

Second, there's also a content value issue. Ochocinco's app has some relevant content, but it's also information you can find elsewhere. It's a sort of mishmash between his Twitter stream and personal Web site. Same goes for Bosh's, which is a free app. There's not really any of that wow factor we've seen from other applications, which would add a cool experience and more value to an athlete's application.

AJ Vaynerchuk of VaynerMedia, a brand consulting agency with a focus on social media that represents New York Jets safety Kerry Rhodes and ESPN analyst and former NBA player Jalen Rose, says they've reached this conclusion about iPhone apps for both their clients.

"If we were to put something out on the iPhone for them, we would want it to be something of high quality," Vaynerchuk said. "We'd want to do something that's actually worthwhile, and not something you can get just by going through Twitter or looking at a personal Web site.

"I definitely credit Ocho; I think he's brilliant in a lot of things he does. His Ustreaming is amazing. But I think to put out an application with a few photos, some video and a Twitter stream for five bucks is robbery of the fans."

But Rock Software CEO John Shahidi is quick to note the first run of Ochocinco's app is just that, the first run. Here are examples of features Shahidi said are in the works: an alarm clock with Chad yelling at you to wake up; Ochocinco Radio that will go live once a week with fans calling in and featuring celebrities; a food and workout log for Ochocinco that will disclose his horrible diet and how he burns it off; and for the 2010 season, a dartboard game where users can toss darts at Ochocinco's cornerback matchup for the week.

As far as the price is concerned, Shahidi said via e-mail: "We figured a $5 one-time fee isn't all that much. And in fact, app prices are trending to go towards that direction. The days of 99-cent apps are nearly done and so is $1.99."

Shahidi also mentioned the app is advertisement-free, adding to the cost of it.

Rock Software also has another app on the way: "Mark Cuban's Puzzle Palace," which is an app where you can take either one of Cuban's personal photos, or your own, and make a puzzle out of it.

Cuban said via e-mail that he doesn't know yet how much the app will cost, but it was created because his 3-year-old and 6-year-old daughters love to do puzzles on their iTouch and their mother's iPhone.

"So I worked with Rock Software to take some of my pictures as a starting point for the app, but the real value is that anyone can take any of their personal pictures and the app turns it into a puzzle," Cuban wrote. "So for my kids I can take their pics, family pics, whatever we want and turn them into puzzles to have fun with. It's entertainment for all ages."

Who knows, Cuban's and Ochocinco's applications might be the first dominos that need to fall to get athletes and their representation behind the idea that an iPhone app will not only make them money but also market and brand them creatively, in yet another way, in the digital age.

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.