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ESPN MVNO Targets Sports Fans

Bristol, Conn. — ESPN will launch its Mobile ESPN Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) service in four markets through Best Buy stores on Nov. 1, extending this by early December with sales through its Web site and telemarketing staff, then rolling it out nationally through Best Buy stores starting on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5, 2006.

Best Buy will be the only retailer participating in the Feb. 5 nationwide rollout and in the four-market launch. The four markets are Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Minneapolis; and Reno, Nev.

“We want to control the rollout to ensure the purchasing process and customer care are working at their very best,” a spokeswoman said of the staged rollout. Customer service representatives must pass a sports aptitude test, she noted.

The service, promoted as the first cellular carrier targeting sports fans, will launch initially with a single phone, a Sanyo-made CDMA 1x EV-DO clamshell operating on the Sprint PCS network, but additional phones will be available for the Sprint network later in the year at a variety of price points, a spokeswoman said. Pricing for the initial phone and service weren’t announced, but the Sanyo model, called the MVP, is expected to be expensive.

From its broadcast headquarters here, ESPN will push sports information and video continually to the phones, which will constantly display a sports crawl across its main 2.1-inch color display and on its secondary display. The phone features ESPN’s signature black and red colors, ESPN-style numbers on the keypad and a user interface that mimics ESPN’s onscreen TV graphics.

Although ESPN supplies content to many carriers’ data-enabled cellphones, the spokeswoman said, Mobile ESPN service differs in key respects, she said. They offer automatic push service, depth of information, ability to personalize content delivered to the phone, one-touch access to sports news and real-time game updates. The user interface is also more sophisticated, she noted.

Mobile ESPN provides information about NFL, NCAA, NHL, NBA and MLB teams, as well as professional golf. Subscribers can view scores and stats of games in progress, receive automatic alerts of key plays during a game in progress, and view a graphic onscreen play-by play representation of a live game — though not live video of the game. Clips of key plays, however, are regularly pushed to the phone during a live game and stored in memory for playback.

Sprint’s EV-DO network will be available to 143 million people by the end of the year and will be completely built out in early 2006, when it will be available in about 64 metro areas, the carrier said.

Other phone features include 1.3-megapixel camera, MP3/AAC/AAC+ music player, included 16MB mini SD card, voice recorder, 2.1-inch 260K color QVGA screen, 1.1-inch 260K color external LCD display, PictBridge compatibility, speakerphone, voice dialing, WAP 2.0 Web browser and Java. It also has ability to take videos up to two hours when used with an optional high-capacity memory card.