Wireless Carriers Court Sports, Entertainment

As color screens, faster networks and more capable devices make mobile video more robust, wireless carriers such as Nextel are reaching out to sports and entertainment companies for partnerships.

The 27-pound sterling silver trophy that NASCAR and Nextel Communications Inc. unveiled this week may have been the latest and most artistic tribute to the organizations partnership. But its the delivery of wireless content to stock car racing fans that runs closer to Nextels core business.

Nextel and NASCAR have been testing that business model since April when on the eve of the Daytona 500 in Florida, the companies expanded a partnership that began with Nextels sponsorship of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series races, whose winner takes home the silver trophy.

Digital Orchid, a San Diego-based content provider, is the third player in the tripartite affair that sends news, driver standings, statistics, schedules and real-time, lap-by-lap race updates from NASCAR.com to whatever mobile devices NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) fans are packing.

Nextels senior vice president of marketing, Mark Schweitzer, calls the services "a natural extension of our business."

The April announcement was one of the first in what Adam Zawel, an analyst with The Yankee Group of Boston, says is becoming "a transition year for wireless" as sports and entertainment companies—at the urging of wireless carriers looking for new channels of business—focus on cell phones as the latest venue for marketing, promotion and profitable partnerships.

/zimages/4/28571.gifTo read how one NASCAR racing team fine-tunes its IT to attain the winners circle, click here.

Nextel has been one of the most active carriers in pursuing partnerships to push sports and entertainment content wirelessly, but whether this will prove to be a profitable business model remains uncertain.

"This stuff has been on the horizon, and now its really taking off. Those whove been especially active now feel justified and those who have been on the sidelines are scrambling," Zawel said. "From the perspective of a content provider, the business models are still up in the air. What theyre doing is aggressively testing different scenarios. Its only the second inning, so to speak," he said.

Next Page: Getting a piece of the action.