ESPN SIGNS SIX ADVERTISERS FOR MOBILE SERVICE

Coors, GM, Nike Among Marketers Inking One-Year Deals

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Mobile media takes one of its biggest leaps forward this week as ESPN signs six major marketers to advertise on its new phone service that will provide access to sports news, commentary, photos and streaming audio and video.

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The deal consists of category-exclusive, one-year agreements covering animated or static brand logos that will appear before ESPN video clips on a rotating basis. Other types of advertising opportunities are also under consideration, such as sponsor identification in the form of banner ads on scoreboards and columnist pages and featured sponsorships of a variety of on-demand content.

Coors Brewing
Coors Brewing Co., for instance, will sponsor a feature, tentatively is dubbed “The Answer Guy,” in which a Mobile ESPN user can text-message a question and receive an answer within a short period of time.

Mobile ESPN is the company’s recent move into being a mobile virtual network operator. The ESPN mobile service delivers ESPN-branded sports content, including news and video highlights, over space leased on Sprint's cellular network using its own branded handsets.

Currently, the deals do not involve "mobisodes," or short videos made for the mobile screen, although ESPN is offering that as an option.

“Advertisers want to learn with us how this type of advertising and marketing communications will happen,” said Ed Erhardt, president, ESPN/ABC Sports customer marketing and sales.

MobiTV
Earlier this month, MobiTV, which operates on Cingular Wireless and Sprint phones with more than 500,000 subscribers globally, announced an advertising pact with Chrysler’s Jeep in which the marketer will run continuous episodes of its Web series following the fictional Mudd family on a dedicated Jeep channel on the phone.

Mr. Erhardt declined to discuss pricing, but said the deals would apply not just to Mobile ESPN but also to ESPN content running on other mobile phones.

The six marketers signing up to advertise on the service, in addition to Coors, are Cisco, General Motors Corp., Hilton, Nike and Visa USA. The deals kick in Feb. 5, when Mobile ESPN launches nationally with advertising on the Super Bowl. None of the marketers returned calls for comment.

Retail sales after Super Bowl
Mobile ESPN currently is being sold only online but will be available after the Super Bowl launch at retail. Monthly plans start at $64.99 for 450 minutes of talk and go up to $224 per month for 4,000 minutes, both with extensive sports content and Web access offerings.

Manish Jha, senior VP-general manager of Mobile ESPN, does not expect consumers to react negatively to seeing advertising, even on Mobile ESPN’s premium-priced service. Because fans will be able to personalize their phone with information about their favorite teams and players, Mobile ESPN will be able to “make advertising relevant and less of an intrusion,” he said, “and to do so with discretion and respect.”

Some consideration is being given to asking consumers using parts of the mobile phone service if they would like to see ads in return for paying less for the service, he said. ESPN, for example, currently charges $4.95 a month for alerts delivered over the Internet. Advertisers might subsidize these for the mobile phone.

The fan experience
Mr. Erhardt said ESPN will be careful about monitoring the advertising. “The fan experience is everything to us,” he said. Ultimately, his concern is how the service will perform, especially in terms of disconnects, lack of service or quality of the video experience on the mobile phone. "The interface has to be good, crisp and strong," he said.

Mobile ESPN began selling the mobile property this fall. Deals were cut on a flat-rate basis based on an estimated number of impressions. Eventually, Mobile ESPN expects to provide data on viewership, Mr. Erhardt said.

Mobile ESPN executives declined to discuss how many phones they planned to sell, but Mr. Jha said he expects the service to have a slower ramp up than Virgin Mobile that is, like Mobile ESPN, a mobile virtual network using Sprint services with 3 million subscribers. “It’s very important to get the experience right,” he said.

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