"This is the image they want the public to see," says John Shahidi. "This is not what ESPN or the Cincinnati Bengals or the NFL wants you to think of them."
Shahidi is the CEO of Rock Software, a California-based developer that specializes in pro-athlete apps for the iPhone, iPad, and other mobile devices. The apps, which essentially aggregate a sports star's social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and foster interaction between fans (daily Q&A's, exclusive videos and photos, sound bites), have attracted big names such as Chad Ochocinco and Dwight Howard. The company is developing apps for Floyd Mayweather, Terrell Owens, and Mike Tyson; is in negotiations with rappers Ludacris and Wale; and is in discussions with the Minnesota Vikings and advertiser Johnson & Johnson for as-of-yet unannounced projects.
"There are people on Twitter who don't have Facebook, and people on Facebook who don't have Twitter. Many fans don't know their favorite athletes even have YouTube channels," says Shahidi. "These apps are a great gesture to fans—they are really an all-in-one spot for everything."
Chad Ochocinco's app lets fans view clips from his live UStream webcasts, read his thoughts-of-the-day, and, soon, purchase items from his online store. "It helps fans see the real me, and get the direct access," Ochocinco recently told Fast Company.
While Rock Software currently offers the apps for free with minimal advertising, the company is developing 99-cent iPhone games that will feature the athletes. Shahidi hopes their free apps will serve as a vehicle to promote the company's games. "It's good exposure," he says. "Shaq is selling his app for $3 and it doesn't have nearly the amount of features as Chad's—and Chad's is free."
Star power aside, can anyone take advantage of Rock Software's free apps? What about unknown athletes or D-list celebrities?
"Anyone can have an app as long as they provide people a reason to download it," explains Shahidi, who assures me that the athletes do not pay to use the company's services. "If [Pistons forward] Charlie Villanueva would shave his eyebrows on video and post it on his app, then he'd have a ton of downloads. It definitely helps when you're a character—if you're a goofball."
Certainly the antics of Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, and a potentially eyebrow-shaving Charlie Villanueva will gain downloads and bring attention to Rock Software (much to the chagrin of the NFL and NBA). But what of athletes who are not willing to forgo their dignity for an up-and-coming app developer?
"Kobe Bryant is one of the biggest names in the world," says Shahidi. "However, what's he going to show? A picture of him and his daughters at Disneyland?"
He then gleefully describes to me an Ochocinco anecdote, where the athlete-turned-reality-star was handcuffed by a security guard at a Target, and then posted pictures of the incident on Twitter to the delight of his fans.
"I doubt Kobe would ever do that," he says.