CTIA Fall 2005
ESPN doesn't just know sports, they know sports fans. And they know exactly the information that sports fans want. The all-sports all-the-time network already offers a great deal of content for mobile phone and PDA users, so packing enough new features into an MVNO to lure subscribers away from their current service was going to be a challenge.
After playing with Mobile ESPN on their first phone (the MVP), it's clear the only challenge the network hasn't firmly beaten is one of clear branding. The ESPN brand is strong in every aspect, but there is a great deal of confusion about ESPN Mobile versus Mobile ESPN. ESPN Mobile is the division of ESPN responsible for all things mobile - the MVNO, the WAP content for other operators and more. Mobile ESPN is the name of the MVNO and of the application that subscribers to it will spend 90% of their time with. We suspect that it won't be long before the distinct red and black MVP and the service will just be know as "that ESPN phone" or just "ESPN."
ESPN will launch online sales of their first phone, the MVP, this holiday season. The MVP is looks like a Black Sanyo MM-5600 with red keys. It shares many of the same features as the Sprint phone, however it adds EV-DO high speed data and a special UI client.* Although it is a 3G service and takes advantage of the data speed and video capabilities, Mobile ESPN will not launch with other 3G features like Push To Talk and may not even include MMS. It will however include a music player and access to other WAP sites for non-sport content.
The Mobile ESPN application is a sports lover's dream. Even as the application launches and downloads the home screen, the sports trivia begins. Once the application is running you have total access to ESPN. It features full access to almost every aspect of ESPN online as well as the TV channel(s). Most of the pages look more like TV and less like a web page, making the service more fun than ESPN online. It also takes advantage of every pixel on the MVP's QVGA screen. Like the full web site, every aspect of it is customizable from your favorite teams to your fantasy league players so you can track their performance without gluing yourself to your couch or desk. In addition to stats, scores and news, there will also feature a live gamecast - a sort of animated graphic representation of games as they are happening. Plus there will be video clips and audio clips and streams.
Despite the overwhelming amount of information, navigating through it and how it is presented on screen is actually rather clear. ESPN built a slide out menu that can slide completely away for full screen viewing, pop out a little for media options, or practically take over the screen for finding just the right information. The menus and display screens are quite animated as well as good looking. most screens even feature a ticker for up to the minute news and scores.*
Although the MVP and the service will be available through online sales in time for the holidays, the full launch will not be until the Superbowl. At that time it's possible the MVNO will launch additional handsets (we hear they're already very interested in a few new models) and may activate additional features. No doubt those phones, too, will have QVGA screens - we can't imagine the Mobile ESPN application working at lower resolutions.
Remember when giving subscriptions to Sports Illustrated used to be a popular holiday tradition? This could be the Sports Illustrated of 2006. If his contract is up soon, we imagine an MVP will be on your sports lover's Christmas list.