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Wireless Firms Target Sports Enthusiasts

12/13/2002 12:31:00 PM Eastern

Carlsbad, Calif. - Single Touch Interactive, a startup MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), plans nationwide retail-channel distribution of wireless phones and services targeted to sports enthusiasts, including wrestling fans.

The BREW-equipped phones and services will bear the licensed brands of such companies as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), formerly the World Wrestling Federation, Men's Health magazine, outdoor magazines, and TVG, which simulcasts horse races.

Depending on the phone, distribution will be initially through sporting-goods chains, the sporting goods departments of mass merchants, and direct-response ads on TV and in magazines. Distribution through other CE and wireless retailers, however, is in the works, said company founder Anthony Macaluso. Macaluso also owns Dancorp, a Rochester, N.Y.-based wholesaler of sporting-goods accessories to 3,500 storefronts, including sporting-goods chains.

Before the licensed products are launched, Single Touch plans by the end of November to launch the Sports Mobile Professional phone, which is targeted to mobile professionals who are also golf enthusiasts. The phone will be the company's first.

The phone's downloadable BREW applications include the ability to search for the nearest golf course, get information about the course, and make a one-touch voice connection to the pro shop to book a tee time. Another application provides tips from Tiger Woods coach Butch Harmon on the best way to hit a ball based on a particular golf course, on the ball's distance from the hole, current wind conditions, and other factors.

Other Sports Mobile applications are business-oriented, including FedEx and UPS package tracking, flight tracking, delivery of personalized stock portfolio updates, access to POP3/IMAP4 email, and sports-information delivery. Via Single Touch's BREW server, users will also be able to open attachments on the phone, a Kyocera3035 CDMA 2G phone with black-and-white screen at $79. It will be replaced in December with Kyocera's CDMA 1x 3225 with GPS. In January, that phone will be supplemented with Toshiba's 9500 65,000-color-screen phone at around $199-$249.

Service plans include $79.95/month for 3,850 minutes of nationwide voice and data.

Users would also be able to download applications that will be bundled with the company's other phones. The additional apps will cost $2.99/month.

Those applications would include wrestling statistics, biographies, and real-time updates of wrestling events delivered to a WWE-branded phone due in mid-January. WWE will promote the phone on its TV programs, on its magazine and web site, and at the organization's 320 annual live events, said Macaluso. He hopes to bring the phones in March or April to major retailers, including Target and Wal-Mart, that already sell WWE t-shirts. Macaluso wants to bring in WWE talent to the stores to promote the phones.

Also in January, Single Touch plans to launch a Men's Health phone in conjunction with the magazine of the same name. Phone ads would appear in the magazine to drive consumers to Single Touch's web site or customer-service center.

A similar deal has been struck with Petersen Publishing in conjunction with its 50 outdoor publications, Macaluso said. In late February, Single Touch will begin offering a horse-betting phone in conjunction with TVG, the simulcast company owned by Fox and TV Guide. 'In 35 states where it's legal, you'll be able to make a horse-racing wager from the handset,' Macaluso said. In this case, TVG will operate the back-end infrastructure, and Single Touch will 'just be the pipe,' Macaluso said. This phone will be sold only through direct-response ads.

All phones must be activated on Alltel's networks, which are scattered throughout the South, Midwest, West, and parts of the Northern U.S. The pricing plans, however, include all roaming and long-distance charges, so the phones can be used on any CDMA network in the U.S. without incurring additional charges. The phones carry the area code of the Alltel market nearest the subscriber.

Unlike traditional MVNOs, Single Touch doesn't buy airtime wholesale or handle billing. Alltel handles billing.

For retailers, Single Touch offers phones on consignment and shares the income from the handset's sale. Retailers, for example, keep $40 of the $79 Kyocera handset. With the WWE and Men's Health, Single Touch shares the activation commission and residuals.

A retailer that wanted to offer a store-branded phone would also share in the commissions and residuals, Macaluso said.

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