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ESPN tries out First Virtual

As First Virtual Holdings announces it has secured a position on ESPN SportsZone, ESPN is currently reevaluating its relationship with First Virtual's competitor, CyberCash.

As First Virtual Holdings announced today that it has secured a position on the popular sports site ESPN SportsZone, ESPN is currently reevaluating its relationship with First Virtual's competitor, CyberCash.

First Virtual, an Internet payment system in which people use a pin number to pay for goods on the Net, is sponsoring a fantasy football league on the site. Customers who use First Virtual to pay for fantasy football fees will get a $5 discount off the $29.95 season price.

The company issues VirtualPINs, or virtual personal identification numbers, and once a member secures one, he or she gets an email from First Virtual with a telephone number to call and supply a credit card number. That way, credit card data never is actually exchanged over the Net, something that registers well with people reluctant to submit financial information online.

ESPN and First Virtual are hoping that fantasy football is just the beginning. "We're planning already to do more promotions with First Virtual," said ESPN spokeswoman Jennifer Yazzolino.

Meanwhile, ESPN is "reviewing" its relationship with CyberCash, a micropayment system company. ESPN had used the new CyberCoin system, which allows people to make purchases of 25 cents to $10 over the Net. ESPN had used CyberCoin to allow people to purchase daily passes into the subscription-only portion of the site.

"It's not on the service now," Yazzolino said. "We did a trial basis and we're reviewing how successful it was and whether it will go back up."

Yazzolino said ESPN will also look to see how popular First Virtual is with customers. "We'll see how customers react. Obviously, if things don't work out, then we're probably not going to put it in many places." But, she added, "As far as we can tell, we've had a pretty good reaction."

The payment system went up July 15, but Yazzolino would not disclose the amount of customers who had registered. The two payment systems--VirtualPIN and CyberCoin--offered different functionality, so one wasn't necessarily replacing the other, she noted.

In addition, sites like to maximize the number of payment systems they accept, just as stores try to accept different credit cards to make purchasing easier.

First Virtual, a three-year-old company, said this is an important deal for their strategy to not only facilitate payments but to help companies market their products.

The payment firm not only will register customers and issue PIN numbers but also will stay in touch with those customers on behalf of companies from which they make purchases, said Pierre Wolff, FV's director of strategy.

"This is an important step in terms of reaching out to a well-targeted user base," said Chris Wand, manager of business and financial strategy. "It's a high brand-name recognition, promotional subscriber base."