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Will technology ruin sports?

Highlights on cellphones and online fantasy teams alter how fans view games.

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Even if they never slept, dedicated sports fans in the United States couldn't watch all the sports programming available. Now, technology is raising the ante. For example:

• ESPN has just announced plans to launch ESPN Mobile late next year, which will send customized sports news (and perhaps video) to owners of a new lineof ESPN mobile phones. By branding a service it already provides, the company hopes to attract the attention of young, affluent males.

• Pro basketball's "NBA Unwired" will allow cellphone customers to play video games and fantasy hoops, watch sports news on their phones, and use the voices of NBA stars as their ringtones.

• Major League Baseball and the National Football League (NFL) have signed contracts with satellite radio companies, which allow fans to hear any game from anywhere in the US.

These and other new technologies have the potential to transform the way fans consume sports - a notion that sports leagues aren't entirely comfortable with. Will game highlights over cellphones deepen fan interest or whittle away at viewership of games? Do Internet-based fantasy leagues broaden a sport's appeal - or weaken loyalty to real teams?

The technology is so new that it's too early to draw conclusions. But the signs of change are unmistakable.

"Maybe we're going to become sports fans with Attention Deficit Disorder or something," says Kirk Wakefield, an expert on sports marketing at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. "We're so highlight-driven, and it wasn't like that 20 years ago."

One clear impact of technology is that more sports programming will be available more broadly than ever before. Through the Internet and satellite television packages like Direct TV's NFL Sunday Ticket, for example, subscribers can easily follow their favorite team at a distance - so a displaced New England Patriots fan in Dallas can still watch his team play or read all about it online.

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