What is a sports API?
API stands for “application programming interface”. Basically, sports APIs give you a quick and easy connection to existing sports analysis, scheduling, and statistical tools so that you can provide a wide range of accurate information inside your app.
For sports, APIs commonly access historical databases to pull up team and player stats, as well as records of famous games and other high-value stats. They can also access league schedules, live scores, or do predictive simulations so see how a given game is likely to go.
Of course, no two APIs do the same thing. So, while one API might give you access to major league game schedules, you’ll probably need a separate API if you also want a function to monitor and track fantasy sports leagues.
APIs are a means to an end more than they are an end product themselves. Think of Google Maps for a good example.
There are tons of websites and applications that use an API to access Google Maps or a specific function of Google Maps.
But if that was all those websites and applications did, there wouldn’t be any reason to use them. Google Maps might give them something they need, but each website and application that accesses it adds layers of function on top of the tool.
So while your sports API subscription might give you real-time scores, statistics, and predictions, you'll still need to fill in the other information and functions that make your application unique.
Common functions of a sports API include:
- League schedules
- Probability and Odds comparisons
- Live scores
- Simulating real and theoretical games
- Team and player report cards
- Translating data into several languages
- Analyze draft results
- And much more
You can also often customize the presentation, and even what kinds of data are made available, by tailoring each API to your app needs.
Some APIs are league specific, but many of the best sports APIs cover a wide variety of leagues, both professional and collegiate. Of course, if your app is specialized to only football or only baseball, you'll probably want to look most closely at the APIs that specialize in your sport.
How to use a sports API
The first thing you need to use a sports API is its API key. The key is how you prove that you’re authorized to access the API.
If the API you’ve chosen has several subscription levels, and many do, your key will also indicate which subscription level you’re at and what you (and your app’s users) can access.
Usually, the key needs to be inserted into the API code directly to activate it.
You'll also probably need to know some coding to use a sports API, but the best sports APIs are written in high-level coding languages that are easy to learn. Learning some of the basics of Python is simple with Python for Beginners.
Most sports APIs will also provide some instructional documentation. You’ll use the code editor to determine things like how often the information provided through the API updates. At minimum, you should make sure your API is set up so that you're not calling for updates more often than your subscription allows.
What are the best sports APIs?
The best sports API is always going to be about what your app needs more than it is about there being one single perfect API. So, we’ve gone through and selected 6 of the best sports API out there to help you find a good fit for your app.
Of course, with the hundreds of API out there to choose from, you might discover that you really need an API that isn’t on our list, and that’s perfectly okay.
- Sportsradar Sports Data API
- Versus Sports Simulator
- Gracenotes Sports
- SportsPage Feeds
- The Rundown
- Yahoo Fantasy Sports
If none of these APIs really fits your needs, feel free to take a look at Programmable Web's Sports API Database.
Don’t worry, we’ll give you the rundown on all our top picks, but it’s worth noting that sports API are so widely diverse that it’s almost impossible to represent all of them in an article like this.
These API are designed to track a wide variety of sports and different leagues, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that there aren’t more specialized sports API out there.
1. Sportsradar Sports Data API
Sportsradar is one of the best sports data APIs you can get if you’re looking to offer a wide range of sports data and truly international coverage. They have more than 60 major leagues in their roster, and that means hundreds of thousands of games are routinely covered by Sportsradar.
The data updates regularly, with a daily update on the basic package, including one update for every game. More advanced packages give you updates at important game intervals, all the way up to their best offering which provides real-time game data.
However, you do have to license the API by sport, so this can be a costly system to set up if you want broad coverage. They also cap the number of calls (data updates) your API can make in a 30-day period.
Sportsradar doesn’t make their API pricing publicly available, partially because there are discounts for multi-sport subscriptions, and a lot of variability depending on the plan you need.
However, they do publicize that you’ll only pay or your subscription during the months where your sport is active. That way you’re not stuck with fees for an API that isn’t being used during the off-season.
- Tons of international leagues
- Option of real-time data
- Covers a huge number of games every year
- Highly customizable plan
- Most affordable version has relatively few data updates
- Can be expensive if you want to cover a wide variety of sports in your app
2. Versus Sports Simulator
If you're looking for a comprehensive ranking system, the ability to predict games, and even run simulations through your app, Versus Sports Simulator's API is one of the best sports API for you.
This system takes up to date statistics into account as it creates score predictions and rankings from within a wide variety of sports leagues. They cover both professional and collegiate teams, which means you have a lot more variety.
Since the data is updated regularly, you can expect to see changes in team ranking, report cards, and other features with every surprise update, stellar player performance, or unexpected loss.
The price is variable, depending on which league you need to cover. Their lowest cost per month is for Nascar Sprint Cup, at $300 a month, while more expensive leagues like the NFL run $850 a month.
- Really in-depth look at teams and players
- Great for helping predict game outcomes
- Lets you see league rankings
- Does have a free trial offer so you can try before you buy
- Relatively expensive, especially for more than one league
- Somewhat limited league selection
3. Gracenote Sports
Gracenote Sports API gives your app access to the Gracenote sports internal database. That means that you have a lot of flexibility with what you do with that data, so this is one of the more freeform sports API offerings.
Their data system has a wide range of information, from accurate scores to game play-by-play breakdowns. Gracenote covers all the major leagues and has more than 4,000 leagues contributing data worldwide.
Gracenote is another API that doesn’t publish their pricing. However, we do know that the data is available in several different languages. You can contact them directly to learn more at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the data access for yourself on their demo page.
- Tons of available information
- Demo page to see the capabilities of the API before subscribing
- Multi-language support
- Detailed gameplay by play reporting
- Pricing isn’t published
- Can be an intimidating dataset to work with because of its complexity
4. Sports Page Feeds
Sports Page Feeds is another API that provides read time score updates, as well as betting odds for all the major US sports leagues. You can also get league schedules as well as highly customizable widgets for your app through Sports Page Feeds.
At a higher subscription level, you can also see the full odds history of different games, which lets you keep up to date on how the experts are evaluating the game. It’s also able to handle a higher capacity of calls than many sports API, up to 50/second.
Sports Page Feeds is also one of the most affordable of the best sports API. The basic subscription starts at $29/month and covers all the major U.S. leagues, and even includes real-time updates, unlike competitors that require a higher subscription for real-time reports.
- Offers real-time reporting at basic package levels
- High capacity
- Covers all the major US leagues
- Highly affordable
- No international coverage
- Monthly call limits can be more limiting than the API call capacity
5. The Rundown
We want to note that this screen capture is great for showing what the Rundown API can do but was taken while all the leagues are on pause thanks to the coronavirus. Normally this screen would be populated with a lot more information, but these leagues aren't currently holding games for the tracker to track.
The Rundown is designed to give you the odds on a wide range of leagues and games, sorted by month, league, or just when the game will occur.
If you’re putting together a betting sports app, this API will give your users access to some of the most important statistics needed for their betting decisions.
The Rundown has a basic subscription that’s actually free, but that comes with a hard 25 call daily limit. More advanced plans start at $49.99 a month, with a small fee for additional calls above a daily limit.
- Provides accurate and quickly updated data
- Lots of leagues covered
- Has multiple filters for easier access
- Easy to read and easy to use
- Relatively affordable
- The addition of a price per call, above your daily limit, can quickly add to the cost of this API
6. Yahoo Fantasy Sports
If you’re looking for a fantasy ports API that gives your users meaningful, in-depth statistics and background information on a range of different leagues, Yahoo Fantasy Sports is the go-to API among the best sports API.
Since Yahoo Fantasy Sports is also the largest provider of Fantasy Sports platforms, you can be confident that this API provides data that are relevant and helpful for your customers.
Yahoo’s API also gives you access to features that help optimize rosters, and analyze drafts for better fantasy sports results.
Yahoo doesn’t currently publish the pricing for their Fantasy Sports API, but while there are some fantasy sports competitors on the market, they’re still one of the best options by a good margin.
- Detailed stats and analysis
- Information comes from the main provider of fantasy sports leagues
- Relatively easy to use
- Great for analytical apps
- Pricing isn’t reported
- Few resources are going toward this API, and it has limited support systems
What to look for in a sports API
Since Sports API are so varied, it’s relatively difficult to put your finger on the specific qualities that separate the best sport API from the rest. However, there are a few things you should consider before you decide to use any sport API.
Does it cover the leagues your app is most interested in?
A sports API might offer a lot of features and functionality as a tool, without covering the specific leagues you are most interested in.
Even if you think the tool might be useful, you should probably move on to a different API if you’re designing a new app.
That’s because subscription cost bloat can quickly sink a new app, so you should specifically focus on only the leagues and statistics that are most important to your core function.
Does it offer real-time analysis and data?
Real-time data can quickly separate the best sport API from others. Even if you don't intend to subscribe at the level needed to access real-time data, the fact that it's offered is a sign of a robust and well-supported tool.
This isn’t a make it or break it feature for some sports apps, but it can be absolutely critical for others.
Think carefully about whether you need real-time data for your app to be most effective. Eliminate API that don't offer it if you do, and make sure to carefully research API without real-time data even if you don't need it.
Look for active support and resources being spent on the API. While abandoned API can be very effective, you never know when they might be taken down or just stop working.
Another thing you should always check is how compatible each API is. Does the format of the API work with the primary devices and platforms you want to use it on? If you aren’t already familiar with API formats and types, this article does a good job of breaking down the different types.
You should also look for the ability to convert readouts into different languages since you'll be able to appeal to a wider base of users if you have multiple language options.
Before you start using any API, check the support documentation. Look for a robust set of documentation that’s relatively easy to use, and make sure you have the level of technical skill indicated by the documentation before you begin.
You should also look for support forums and other places you can go to get help when you run into hiccups with the API’s function. This goes with making sure there are resources being put toward your chosen API, no support forums is an indication that your API may not be getting much support from its developer.
Speed and capacity
Speed is critical for modern app developers, and a single slow API can slow your whole system down. Make sure the API is relatively fast when you make a call, and that you aren’t experiencing long loading times when trying to use any tools and functionality the API adds.
Most of the best sport API are naturally very fast, partially because they need to handle real-time data reporting.
But you should also check on the capacity of your API. Some are very limited, only supporting a few calls per second, which can slow things down even with real-time reporting. Others can support a lot more calls per second but have other limitations on a daily or monthly basis that might make them less effective.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell how many calls you’ll need with any particular API without giving it a try. Try to err on the safe side, and opt for subscriptions that offer more calls, and greater call capacity, than you think you’ll need.
Frequently asked questions:
How much should I pay for a Sports API?
Unfortunately, there isn’t any hard and fast rule for the cost of a sports API. Some are affordable, less than $50 a month for a reasonable suite of tools and functions.
Others can run into the hundreds of dollars a month and are clearly designed for large corporate enterprises more than small developers.
There are also a few high-quality sport API that offer a free subscription level that’s are very functional and work for some apps. But those are rarer than paid subscription API.
Beware of API that offer a set subscription price and additional charges for certain services or higher call volume. Some API that have embraced this freemium design are very effective and affordable, despite the somewhat hidden additional costs. Others aren’t worth what they ultimately cost, especially if you can’t calculate likely costs ahead of time.
Should I look for a free trial?
Yes! Free trials of API are a wonderful way to test and see how well any given API works with your app. Keep an eye out for free trial offers any time you have the time to test a tool you may not ultimately use.
However, you shouldn’t expect a free trial with a lot of the best sports API. They simply aren’t common enough for developers to be pressured to provide one, so it’s usually only the most popular or expensive API that bother with a demo version.
Some services offer temp API keys that allow you to access and try a wider variety of API, which can be an invaluable service for serious developers. Those keys might only give you a single call to that API, while others give you a longer trial.
The best sport API are powerful tools that give you access to huge databases and complicated tools without having to go to all the trouble of coding them yourself. You can access vast libraries of information that have already been effectively targeted toward sports lovers for you.
Of course, you may want to offer more than just sport information, depending on the kind of app you want to design. Our Guides page is consistently updated with more API articles.