ESPN MVP was a cellular phone-based sports information service offered by ESPN and Verizon Wireless on feature phones. It was carried on the Verizon Wireless network after it was relaunched in May 2007 as the ESPN MVP, and was operated until 2013, when smartphones with mobile web and application access had long supplanted limited feature phones. Previously known as Mobile ESPN, it was an Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) run by Disney using Sprint's EVDO wireless network from November 25, 2005, until December 2006. The service was widely considered overpriced and a failure.
Its key feature was a sports application that could access news, highlights, and scores. The Java-based application was able to provide real-time scores, such that the phone was frequently five or more seconds ahead of a television broadcast in updating scores. The application was also integrated with a SMS service, so that the user was able to receive an alert whenever a favorite team scores or some other newsworthy event occurs.
The content was managed by an editorial team that created original content and repurposed content from ESPN.com's web site to fit the phone format. The majority of content on ESPN.com was also available on Mobile ESPN. On-air mentions of ESPN Mobile during programming such as SportsCenter, especially phone-in segments (which featured graphics of Mobile ESPN handsets rather than the common genericized renderings of mobile phones used by most news organizations), suggested that the network's on-air staff was contractually bound to use it.
On September 2, 2006, Mobile ESPN streamed the first live sporting event ever delivered to a mobile phone in the United States. Fans watched live coverage from Ann Arbor as Michigan defeated Vanderbilt, 27-7.
Mobile ESPN had only one phone available at launch, the Sanyo MVP, that retailed for as much as US$399. By July 2006, the handset was available for free with a rebate and a two-year commitment to the service. In summer 2006, ESPN rolled out the Samsung ACE, which resembled Motorola's RAZR phones and would ultimately replace the MVP.
Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller's book, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, notes that Apple CEO Steve Jobs (who held a large stake in Disney through his ownership of animation studio Pixar) reportedly told ESPN President George Bodenheimer that "Your phone is the dumbest fucking idea I have ever heard."
The lowest price plan offered at launch was a US$34.95 plan that only included 100 minutes and no bonuses such as free nights and weekends. The lowest plan comparable to that offered by major carriers was a $64.95 plan which included 400 minutes of talk time and unlimited nights and weekends. In May 2006, new plans were rolled out at various price points, including a $40 monthly plan with 400 anytime minutes, free nights and weekends, and stripped-down data service. Though the cost of the full-service, 400 minute plan remained $64.95, the end result was that users were allowed more freedom to pick and choose the services they wanted.
ESPN invested heavily in promotion of the service. ESPN bought its first Super Bowl ad for Super Bowl XL on February 5, 2006, an expensive 60-second high-definition commercial called "ESPN Sports Heaven" that featured a prototypical fan walking through a city filled with sports stars. AdWeek estimated the production cost of the ad at $30 million, in addition to the estimated $2.5 million per 30 seconds cost for the broadcast advertising time during the game.
Transition from service provider to content provider
Early results for Mobile ESPN were disappointing. Initially, ESPN was reported to have projected as much as 240,000 subscribers for the service, but the Wall Street Journal reported that Mobile ESPN had fewer than 10,000 subscribers. Merrill Lynch analysts considered Mobile ESPN to have "failed" and recommended that investors urge ESPN owner Disney to discontinue the service. It was estimated that Mobile ESPN and Disney Mobile combined would lose $135 million over the 2006 fiscal year. ESPN had initially reaffirmed its commitment to the product, stating that they expected that price cuts in handsets, increased marketing efforts, and other incentives for customers would prove to be successful. However, on September 28, 2006, ESPN announced it would be discontinuing the service to take effect by the end of the year. Those who had subscribed to long-term plans received refunds from ESPN.
- "ESPN's Cell-Phone Fumble", Businessweek, October 30, 2006.
- "Steve Jobs: “Your phone is the dumbest f***ing idea I have ever heard”, OS X Weekly, July 21, 2011.
- James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN (Hachette Digital, 2011), ISBN 978-0316125765, p. 638. Excerpts available at Google Books.
- Mae Anderson, "ESPN Unveils 'Sports Heaven'", AdWeek, February 1, 2006.
- "The AdCritic: Super Bowl XL", Advertising Age, February 5, 2006.
- Jenn Abelson, "Local Advertising Team Tackles Super Bowl Spot; Arnold Worldwide Works Seven Months on High-Stakes Investment for Mobile ESPN, The Boston Globe, February 5, 2006 – via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
- Jesse Noyes, "Arnold's ESPN ad `Super'", The Boston Herald, February 2, 2006 – via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
- Anthony F. Smith, Keith Hollihan, ESPN The Company: The Story and Lessons Behind the Most Fanatical Brand in Sports, John Wiley & Sons, 2009, ISBN 9780470564004, pp. 194-195. Excerpts available at Google Books.
- http://www.mediaweek.com/mw/news/recent_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1002876073 Archived February 21, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Mobile ESPN to close down operations: WSJ"[dead link], Reuters, September 28, 2009.