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ESPN.com steps back into e-commerce batter's box

The Internet unit for the Disney-owned cable sports television network announces that Nike will be the first merchant to become a tenant at its new online mall.

ESPN.com is taking another swing at e-commerce.

The Internet unit for the Disney-owned cable sports television network announced today that Nike will be the first merchant to become a tenant at the ESPN Mall, which opens this fall at shop@espn.com.

Eric Handler, a spokesman for Disney, declined to specify the financial arrangements of the deal.

ESPN.com closed its online store late last month to prepare a new e-tail offering, one that would allow merchants to handle most of the site's retail efforts instead of Disney, Handler said.

The move by the Walt Disney Internet Group, which oversees Disney's Net operations, such as ABCNews.com, Movies.com and Family.com, has, like a lot of e-commerce companies, seen mixed results selling goods online. E-tailer Toysmart.com, which Disney invested an estimated $40 million in a year ago, ceased operations in May.

The move to enlist merchants to run part of ESPN.com's Web store could be a sign that the entertainment company is more willing to seek help from third parties in running its Web unit.

"We are aligning ourselves with e-tail experienced companies such as Nike," Handler said.

As for investments such as Toysmart, Handler said they are dropping "situations that don't speak to our core strengths."

Go.com used to handle the Internet operations for Disney's entertainment empire. The Go Network reported last month a net loss for the fiscal third quarter of $272.2 million, or $1.75 a share. A year ago, it lost $251.5 million, or $1.64 a share.

ESPN.com said Nike has agreed to furnish the Web store with licensed team apparel and shoes.