ESPN takes sport content to mobile phone market

The Walt Disney Co is counting on its ESPN sports franchise to help it establish a toehold in mobile media, first in in North America, with a wireless phone service that delivers news, scores and video highlights. The company's Mobile ESPN is one of the latest "mobile virtual network operators" in the USA targeting lucrative niche audiences with branded content and wireless services.

Meg James reported in the Los Angeles Times that Mobile ESPN is tackling the sports-addict market with a "manly man's black phone and a sales pitch that centers on offering men a portable refuge from the women in their lives".

She quoted the company's website: "Now, it doesn't matter where you are ... Shopping with your wife during football season, now you don't have to miss out on up-to-date fantasy stats…. At your best friend's wedding, now you can dish him the basketball scores while he's at the altar…. At your daughter's softball game, now you'll know if your team made the final field goal."

ESPN's phone will cost US$ 499 (US$ 399 after a rebate) and monthly service plans range from US$ 64.99 to US$ 224.99 which Salil Mehta, executive vice president of ESPN Enterprises described as an "incredibly competitive price." He added that ESPN reaches 97 million people in an average week through its cable television programming and other properties. And male sports fans spend, on average, two hours a day with ESPN.

James reported that virtual networks allow companies to target niche audiences without incurring the enormous expense of building their own wireless network. In South Korea and parts of Europe, virtual networks have become hot commodities. In Denmark, for example, virtual networks target fans of soccer teams ... and advertisers are watching with interest."

Said Courtney Jane Acuff, wireless marketing specialist for Digits: "It's a way for advertisers who use sports as a pillar of communication to become engaged. It's one-stop shopping. It's definitely a way to engage the sports enthusiast."