- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

1:41 p.m.

NEW YORK (AP) — ESPN is closing its cell phone company for sports fans after less than a year, planning instead to forge deals with other wireless operators to offer Mobile ESPN’s multimedia content, the majority-owned subsidiary of Walt Disney Co. announced this morning.

The company will continue providing wireless service and content for its subscribers until the end of the year, refund the purchase price for handsets and assist customers with transferring their phone numbers to other carriers.

Roughly two-thirds of the slightly more than 100 employees at Mobile ESPN will likely lose their jobs next year as the company transitions to a licensing business, though some may find other positions at ESPN, the executives said.

The company has signed just tens of thousands of subscribers since it introduced the service in late 2005 and began advertising early this year, with commercial spots appearing regularly on ESPN’s cable television broadcasts.

Disney recently disclosed it has so far invested a combined $150 million in developing both Mobile ESPN and Disney Mobile, a cell service designed for families that is unaffected by today’s announcement. The company did not disclose whether there would be any charge against earnings to reflect the closure of Mobile ESPN.

“There’s certainly some disappointment,” said Salil Mehta, executive vice president for ESPN Enterprises. “I think the focus of the ESPN organization is that we took a risk, but in doing so, we have the benefit of having created the industry’s leading wireless application, and we’re going to figure out a way to bring that to fans and make the most amount of money.”

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