Ahh, fall. It's the most wonderful time of the year for sports fans.
With so much to follow, many fans now keep an eye on their favorite teams, track stats and watch games through apps on their mobile devices. App-tracking firm App Annie gave CNET an exclusive look at the top sports apps in its study, "Big Leagues on the Small Screen." With the baseball playoffs in full swing, App Annie said the MLB At Bat mobile app is the proverbial clubhouse leader within the pro and college sports ranks.
The At Bat app has been the number one sports league app for iOS and Android for four years, App Annie said. The subscription-based baseball app currently has about 12.7 million downloads and is on pace to surpass the single-season record of 13.1 million downloads set last year, according to the MLB. About 8.5 million people use the At Bat app daily.
Also, At Bat users spend more than 2.8 times as many minutes on the app compared to other apps listed in App Annie's top five, which include the NFL Mobile app, NFL Fantasy Football app, NCAA March Madness app and the NHL app.
Sports apps let fans from all walks live vicariously through their favorite teams, said Adam Earnheardt, a professor at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, who extensively researches sports fandom.
"We used to have to wait until the evening news or tomorrow's paper until we knew the outcomes," he said. "Now we can open an app and -- boom -- we have more stats and information that most fans want, let alone understand."
Strengths of the At Bat app include providing continuous live-streaming content, allowing users to see multiple scores on screen and picture-in-picture game feeds, App Annie said. Fans can also watch out-of-market games. The app now lets iOS 10 users get highlights on the lock screen using 3D, or firm, touch.
The At Bat app was created by MLB Advanced Media (BAM), which is highly respected in the sports and entertainment industries. It has created streaming services for the PGA, HBO, the NHL and the WWE. In August, The Walt Disney Co., which owns cable sports giant ESPN, bought a 33 percent stake in BAMtech, a spin-off of BAM, for $1 billion. Disney CEO Bob Iger said BAMtech will partner with ESPN to create a standalone, cable-free digital streaming service.
That deal, as well as Twitter's deal with the NFL to live-stream 10 Thursday night games, is an example of how more fans are moving to mobile devices as their primary screens for viewing, said Amir Ghodrati, an App Annie insights director.
"We're seeing the amount of information you get on these apps that live-stream sporting events can be a lot higher than what you see get on TV," he said. "The innovative features are constantly improving."