Verizon breathing new life into Mobile ESPN

The defunct mobile service dedicated to sports fans is making a comeback as part of Verizon Wireless' V Cast multimedia service.

ESPN said Thursday it will relaunch its sports-centered mobile phone service through Verizon Wireless.

The two companies have signed an exclusive multiyear deal that will allow Verizon Wireless to offer the Mobile ESPN application developed for ESPN's homegrown mobile phone service through Verizon's V Cast multimedia service. The application will be available later this year, a Verizon Wireless representative said.

The deal also allows Verizon to broadcast live ESPN sporting events over Verizon TV , a new service that uses Qualcomm's mobile broadcasting network called MediaFlo . Verizon said last month that the V Cast TV service would launch in the first quarter of this year. Other channels include NBC, CBS, Fox and MTV.

For the regular V Cast service, Verizon will not charge extra for the Mobile ESPN application. It comes free with either a $15 monthly service subscription or the $3-a-day V Cast pass. Users will simply download the application from Verizon's Get It Now service. The application will then appear as a menu item within the V Cast service. Fans will be able to manage their fantasy sports teams and get real-time scores, news, analysis and short video-on-demand clips.

News of the deal with Verizon Wireless comes exactly one year after ESPN launched Mobile ESPN , a virtual mobile network operator dedicated to sports fans. After about eight months of offering the Mobile ESPN service, the company shut it down. At the time, executives said they would look to partner with established operators to offer the ESPN service.

Mobile ESPN never published subscriber numbers, but some experts speculate the venture never gained more than 30,000 subscribers , well below original estimates of 240,000 subscribers. While fans were impressed with the multimedia application, not enough people were sufficiently dazzled to switch their current cell phone plans and sign up for the service. Mobile ESPN was criticized for its lack of "cool" and sophisticated handsets.

"There are something like 20 million Verizon handsets that are V Cast ready in the market today," said Rebecca Gertsmark, a spokeswoman for ESPN. "That opens up a much broader audience for Mobile ESPN. And consumers who loved the Mobile ESPN multimedia features don't have to switch carriers or buy a new phone to get it."

The companies haven't disclosed the financial terms of the deal or how long the exclusivity will last. ESPN has licensing agreements with other carriers such as Sprint Nextel, which offers some of its sports content on its phones. ESPN also maintains a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) site that anyone with a mobile browser and connection to a wireless data network can access.

 

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