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Mobile ESPN Gets Whistle

The Martin Chronicles
The Martin Chronicles
The Martin Chronicles
9/28/2006

4:30 PM -- I confess to not being heartbroken by today's demise of Mobile ESPN, the MVNO (i.e., branded cellular handset/service provider leasing service on a big carrier's network) from the All-American all-sports network. It's not just that such high-concept services are essentially non-compelling marketing ploys (ESPN reportedly spent $80 million to acquire only 30,000 subscribers). It's that their ads sucked.

The early ads (which debuted during the last Super Bowl) tried to sell the service by presenting its potential customers as, basically, demented schmucks. One presented a Mobile ESPN user accosting sports anchors outside the network's Connecticut headquarters. Others had users eschewing female, ahh, companionship to check the latest sports scores and alerts. What a great ad concept: Hey, you dumbass sports nut with no life -- buy this phone!

Last month ESPN dropped its initial ad agency -- always a sign of desperation -- but the ads didn't get any better. One showed Seattle Seahawks running back and 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander mixing a smoothie (not a margarita) in his kitchen, tripping over his poodle and then immediately getting an update over his mobile phone -- he's sidelined for Sunday's game.

This is a powerful sales pitch, I suppose, if you're a fantasy football freak (or a highly leveraged sports bettor) trying to get an informational leg up on Sunday's games. But it wasn't a big enough market to support the splashy service.

Next up: mobile phone service for desperate housewives!

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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