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Seeing is believing with ESPN's latest call

This time of year, Mel Kiper Jr. saturates every media platform possible. As next weekend's NFL Draft approaches, the draft wonk's signature head of hair will appear on yet another medium: your cellphone.

For the first time, owners of Mobile ESPN's new phone (the Sanyo MVP was released in February) can follow the draft wherever they go. No more sitting in front of the television or computer to see who will be selected No. 1 or which picks the Patriots will trade. Instead, users can customize their phones to provide team-specific alerts -- a Boston College follower can be signaled when Mathias Kiwanuka is drafted, or a New England fan can find out which collegian Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli tab in the first round -- in a showcase of the latest movement media companies are embracing: customization.

''We're just getting started," said Oke Okaro, Mobile ESPN's senior director of product development. ''The key differentiator of our service is its personalized nature, the highly relevant nature, and the real-time nature. Those are the things that make us very different out there. It's an entirely personalized experience. We know who your favorite teams are. We know a lot about sports fans and about the people who've purchased our service. We'll continue to do everything we can to make it a much more relevant experience."

The service, rolled out on Super Bowl Sunday, allows ESPN to serve as both cellphone carrier and content provider. On the carrier side, the service runs on Sprint's Evolution Data Optimized (EVDO) network. For content, the Mobile division has a separate programming and production staff in ESPN's Bristol, Conn., headquarters.

Phone owners -- ESPN declined to release how many have purchased the device -- have multiple options. They can access real-time scores, statistics, player injuries, and highlights. Fantasy sports enthusiasts who manage teams via ESPN can update their rosters and make trades on the phone. Highlights and clips from shows such as ''SportsCenter" and ''Pardon the Interruption" can be viewed. The phone includes a 1.3-megapixel camera and can be used as an MP3 player.

Of course, you can talk on the phone, too.

ESPN views the draft as a perfect application for its new device. Leading up to next weekend, Mobile users can read stories by ESPN's gallery of college football and NFL experts and watch ''SportsCenter" clips featuring draft material.

For the two draft days (April 29-30), users can program their phones to provide customized coverage and alerts. They can be notified whenever certain teams pick and when players from particular colleges are selected. While Mobile users will initially receive a bare-bones alert -- player's name, college, pro team -- they can also access analysis and video clips later in the day.

''With other mediums, be it in front of the TV or in front of the computer, you're not mobile," Okaro said. ''What this gives you is the ability to continue doing what you're doing but also remain on top of what's going on."

While there is only one phone now and one retail location (Best Buy) that carries the Mobile ESPN device, Okaro said the service will be available on more devices later this year. The phones also will be sold in approximately 500 Sprint stores by July and in roughly 60 mall kiosks by the end of 2006. Okaro said ESPN is also exploring the possibility of offering the service to users who have existing accounts with other national carriers.

Mobile ESPN's limited availability and price ($99, plus a monthly service charge ranging from $34.99 to $224.99) haven't led to widespread market penetration yet. But Okaro said the industry's future is unlimited.

''Mobile offers you a way to get personalized experience beyond any other medium currently at the moment," Okaro said. ''It's a very personal device."

Boston blanked
For the fourth time in the last 10 years, both of Boston's winter teams were eliminated from the playoffs in the same season, preventing the clubs from raking in extra gate revenues and television ad sales.

Skip Perham, Fox Sports Net New England communications manager, said the station would have aired Celtics playoff games not picked up by ABC or ESPN. NESN spokesman Gary Roy said that in years past, NESN had aired some playoff games, but did not know whether OLN and NBC would have claimed all the Bruins postseason matches this season. Neither David Woodman, FSN New England general manager, nor Sean McGrail, NESN president, was available for comment.

Tonight, the NHL kicks off its postseason with Edmonton at Detroit at 7 p.m. on OLN, the first of a doubleheader (Calgary hosts Anaheim at 10 p.m.). OLN will air approximately 52 first-round games, with one series in each conference broadcast in high definition.

NBC, also in its first year of partnership with the NHL, begins its coverage tomorrow at 3 p.m. (Channel 7) with the Rangers visiting New Jersey. NBC will carry Games 3 through 7 (if necessary) of the Stanley Cup finals.

''We were with one network partner who was a good partner for many, many years," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, on a conference call this week, said in reference to ESPN. ''But the shape we were in in television starting this season was a function of a decade and a half of their coverage where we were with a lot of other sports. We now get treated specially. We now have an importance. We now get an extent and level of coverage we've never had before. And if you want to judge this on one year of experience, I don't think you're being fair. Over time, we think we are going to see continued improvement on the cable coverage."

The NBA returns for a tripleheader on ESPN -- the NHL's former network, whose rejection of the league's bid led to the OLN contract -- tomorrow for the first round of the playoffs. San Antonio hosts Sacramento at 5:30 p.m., Chicago at Miami takes place at 8 p.m., and Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers tip off at 10:30 p.m. ABC (Channel 5) also will carry a first-round game tomorrow (3 p.m., Washington at Cleveland).

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