Bodenheimer Sells Cells

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ESPN president George Bodenheimer, sitting on a panel with Sports Illustrated managing editor Terry McDonell and NBA commissioner David Stern, used the breakfast get-together to hawk the new ESPN cellphone, which hit stores nationwide on Super Bowl Sunday.

Speaking on “the Electronic Future of Sports” at the Conde Nast building in New York (the panel was moderated by Ken Auletta), the sporting titans emphasized the need to cater to fans who want their scores, highlights and analysis immediately, and on whatever device they happen to be staring at.

“Fans don’t want to wait for the paper the next morning,” said Bodenheimer of Mobile ESPN, a joint venture with Sprint. “They don’t even want to wait for SportsCenter that night.”

Bodenheimer said he discovered the power of the phone as viewing platform after last month’s Rose Bowl game. “Who would’ve thunk that 100,000 people would watch the Rose Bowl on their phone?” he said.

Commissioner Stern, who teased SI’s McDonell for paying for his ESPN phone—“I’m waiting for George to give me one,” he quipped—says advertising will play a larger part in the MobileESPN model. “I think George is going to stream in ads on the phone,” he said, “more than he did the first day [it was available].”

Stern also spoke of getting NBA product in front of more eyeballs with an enhanced viewing experience that will put the fan in the director’s chair. “You’ll have statistics in real time, and you’ll be able to direct your own game,” he said. “If you want the camera courtside instead of at halfcourt, you can have it.”

McDonell, meanwhile, hinted that ESPN was more about entertainment than sports, chastising the sports giant for scrapping its controversial original series Playmakers a few years back, after pressure from the NFL. Of ESPN, he said, “It’s all show business. Can you imagine if Sports Illustrated pulled Playmakers?” due to pressure from a sports league.

All agreed that broadcasting video to multiple platforms was a top priority, whether it’s phones, broadband, or video games. “Sometime soon there’ll be one device in your living room,” said Stern. “We don’t think of streaming [video] as strictly an internet application anymore.”

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