SMS sports alerts on

Written by Adrian Holovaty on August 31, 2003

To mark the year's first KU football game, we launched a new feature on today: SMS game alerts. Users can sign up to receive KU football game scores and stats on their cell phones in one of three ways:

  1. After the game
  2. At halftime and after the game
  3. After each quarter

You can choose whether you want to receive these updates on a game-by-game basis or for the entire season. The alert messages are hand-written by an editor rather than being automated, because that allows us to pick out key stats and interesting tidbits.

From what I've heard, this is small potatoes compared to some of the SMS stuff happening in Europe, but we're genuinely pleased and excited by this new technology. It's a perfect fit for quick breaking-news bits, of which sports scores are an excellent example.

On, quite a few people have signed up to receive the alerts already, despite the facts that the feature has only been advertised on the site for about a day and a half and that KU football doesn't have as good of a reputation as, say, KU basketball. What's really interesting to me is that most of the people who signed up requested the quarterly updates, as opposed to only the postgame or halftime/postgame options. Seems like they want as much info as they can get, as often as they can get it.

The most interesting thing about this, though, is how easy it is to do technically. The deep, dark secret behind our SMS implementation is: It's just e-mail. All of the large American cell phone companies provide an e-mail interface to their clients' cell phones. For example, to send an SMS to a Sprint PCS customer, just send an e-mail to the person's 10-digit number at the domain (e.g., and your e-mail will be displayed on his or her phone as a text message. It's that simple.

There are other ways of hooking into cell-phone providers' SMS systems -- ways that provide more security and reliability than simple e-mail -- but every provider seems to have a different API. In designing the system, I decided that the benefits of the e-mail approach -- namely, a common interface -- outweighed the minor disadvantages.

Judging by the preliminary reaction to the game alerts, I think it's safe to say we'll only be doing more of this. (This is our second venture into SMS, our first being event reminders, which we've had for a few months and are quite popular in themselves.)


Posted by Dave on August 31, 2003, at 4:12 p.m.:

Adrian: Define "quite popular". You mention that your SMS services have subscribers, but what is a typical response rate? And what's the best way to attract these folks? 10 subscribers isn't worth the effort. 1000 is. Or, if you can't get into exact numbers, talk about percentages.

Posted by Aapo Laitinen on August 31, 2003, at 6:53 p.m.:

"From what I've heard, this is small potatoes compared to some of the SMS stuff happening in Europe, ..."

Well, not really. Even though there are lots of innovative stuff available, different kinds of news alerts, special offer annoucements and status messages are just about the only thing that has gained wide popularity, at least here in Finland. There are some location-based services and a few opportunities to pay via SMS, but they are far from mainstream.

Posted by Sara on August 31, 2003, at 10:49 p.m.:

If it's as easy to set up as Adrian indicates, it's probably worth the effort for 10 subscribers.

Posted by Adrian on September 1, 2003, at 12:17 a.m.:

Dave: To attract these folks, we've put a prominent link to the feature in the right rail of I believe we're also planning to advertise the feature in our e-mail newsletter, and it's probably safe to guess we'll put some house ads in the newspaper's sports section. (That's just a guess, of course. I just build the tools; I don't promote 'em.)

As for numbers or percentages, I wouldn't feel comfortable giving those out, mostly because that's our business. But Sara has nailed it -- setting up the SMS system only took a day or two, thanks to a framework we already had in place, and it was definitely worth that effort.

Posted by Wilson on September 2, 2003, at 11:53 p.m.:

One interesting angle on the SMS subscription model (at least here in the middle of America) is the (still) relative novelty of it.

I'm so protective of my e-mail address that I wouldn't subscribe to an alert list if you paid me (unless, of course, I eat lunch with the guy who wrote the subscription system).

I would, however be much more likely to sign up for an SMS alert service because I don't get spammed to my phone (yet) and I still think it's kind of cool.

Posted by Vin Crosbie on September 5, 2003, at 1:09 a.m.:

Although it may be "small potatoes compared to some of the SMS stuff happening in Europe", potatoes can grow. Speaking of which (hey, it's OK; I'm Irish-American), I believe that this year (The Irish Times of Dublin) will earn more revenues from its SMS operations than from its Web site.

Posted by brady on August 27, 2004, at 2:59 a.m.:

this is great. thanks for the info on wireless domains. hopefully, SMS will not become the spam gutter that email has.

Posted by Michael on January 6, 2005, at 11:32 p.m.:

Thanks for the great post. The link to provider details was especially helpful.

Having had this in place for over a year, do you find that the email addresses used by the various companies (e.g. "") remain stable. Have any started bouncing messages or the like?

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