This Sunday, kicked off with a 60-second Super Bowl commercial, ESPN Mobile goes on sale at Best Buy stores across the country. The service is considered by ESPN as the great new world, their chance to dominate the handheld industry the way they've dominated the televised sports industry. We've been kind of confused about what the actual package is, but we did some digging around, and here's the deal.
First things first, it's difficult to deny that what the phone offers is cool. The video and interface are unlike anything you've ever seen. There's all sorts of mobile-exclusive content and all kinds of bells and whistles. We might make an argument that we don't quite understand exactly when one might desperately need breaking video higlights — you have to be away from a television and a computer; there's the popular archetype of a guy stuck at a wedding, and that, along with driving a car, are the only times Americans are away from either of those things — but if you want them, you've got them here.
Here's the thing, though. If you want this service, you have to be a Sprint customer. If you have Verizon, or T-Mobile, you're out of luck; you're gonna have to switch to Sprint. Right now, there's no other way to get the service. So if you have a long cumbersome contract, forget it.
But if you're already a Sprint customer, you don't just get the service. You have to buy the ESPN-specific handset. That's gonna run you about 300 bucks. You're gonna have to buy a brand-new phone JUST to get your ESPN highlights. Even if you're already with Sprint. Just so you can watch Stuart Scott at a wedding. We're huge sports fans (and Sprint customers, we might add), but we're not exactly gonna shell out that kind of cash for something we'll use only sporadically. No matter how cool it is.
The issue is not with the service itself, which is impressive; the problem is that ESPN is demanding its customers turn over their entire cellphone world just to play along. Not only do you have to use their service (Sprint), you have to use their phone. The entire thing is on their terms. It's a huge risk hinging entirely on brand recognition and loyalty. Maybe they're right. Maybe it'll work. Or maybe they'll completely backtrack in six months once they realize people don't want to jump through all those hoops, and concentrate on getting ESPN as the sole sports content provider on all cellular carriers, which, frankly, might have made more sense in the first place.
(UPDATE: ESPN speaks! We just received the following email from a spokesperson:
Hi Will - Saw your post today about Mobile ESPN. Just wanted to clarify a couple of points about the service.
While Mobile ESPN uses Sprint's network, the service is not available to Sprint customers. Mobile ESPN is the carrier - billing, customer care, service contracts, etc. is all through Mobile ESPN. The Sanyo MVP ($199) is our first phone, but we'll roll out other handsets throughout the year at various prices.
The monthly plans range from $34.99/month - $224.99/month. All plans include voice, SMS, wireless internet access and all the ESPN sports content.
If you have any other questions, MobileESPN.com has a ton of information on the service, pricing plans, etc. Thanks ...
So there you go.)