Ticker Toy for Fans

For all the Normal Guys of the world who are forced by the circumstance of their employment to have a paging device clipped to their belt--and who hate every minute of being eternally tethered to responsibility--there now comes a unit that might actually be fun to wear.

Called the Sports Page, it delivers vital statistics--lots of them--to local sports fanatics. Owners of the four-ounce black boxes get a continuous portable sports ticker, including partial and final scores from all over the country 24 hours a day, and the numbers are updated by satellite every five minutes. Also among the many fascinating things the box can deliver into its owner's palm are pre-game weather conditions, daily injury reports from all of the important leagues and all the latest poop on the racing at the Santa Anita and Golden Gate horse tracks in California. It even carries round-by-round analyses of big prizefights.

And, in a pinch, the Sports Page actually can perform as a real pager, which (if you've got a gutsy accountant) makes it tax-deductible.

The cost of a box is $375, and subscribers pay $65 a month to get their continuous supply of numbers. Bill Bainum, owner of the local Sports Page franchise, says a vast majority of his potential customers will be hard-core (some in the treatment community might go so far as to label them "compulsive") sports gamblers, the kind of person who cares little about wins, losses or how games are played, but a lot about point spreads.

"About 80 percent are gamblers," admits Bainum, who brought the system to Phoenix for the first time in November, "but there are a lot of doctors and lawyers and people out there who like sports and who need to get scores."

Of course there are. Bainum got involved when he saw a profile of the then-new nationwide service in USA Today. "I've always liked to bet--I've followed sports for years--and I said, `Jeez, I've got to have one of these.'" When informed that the Phoenix area had yet to come on-line, some dialogue ensued that eventually resulted in his owning the local franchise.

Technically, the Sports Page system is a marvel. Scores are shot via satellite to Phoenix and other land stations across the country from the company's headquarters in--where else?--Las Vegas. The hand unit is a Motorola PMR 2000 pager, capable of a 1,984-character memory, or, in average-mook terms, the scores from about eighty different games. The 32-character dot-matrix screen is lighted for night viewing. Bainum, just for example, says he takes the pager with him on his evening jog.

Until the Sports Page came along, sports junkies had only a couple of full-time, up-to-the-minute places to get their fixes, and those were costly 900- and 976-prefix phone services. "This thing is right on the screen for you," Bainum beams. "On Saturday, it's like watching eighty basketball games at once."

So far about 25 of the pagers have been sold locally, but many, many more of the city's sports-conscious doctors, lawyers and bookies are expected to sign up soon. At first Bainum advertised the new service in the daily papers, but he didn't reach "the gambling people" until he bought a little box in the Daily Racing Form.

Now, Bainum says he's counting on plenty of great word of mouth among the Valley's sportin' types. He recently got encouraging words from another Sports Page franchisee who's managed to move more than 1,500 of them. "I called the guy who has the franchise in L.A.," Bainum says, "and asked him about advertising, and he said, `I don't need to advertise the thing. They call me and don't even ask the price. They say, "I want one."|'

"I've never had a guy get one of these in his hand and he didn't buy it," Bainum says. "If he has it for a day, he ain't gonna give it up.

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Dave Walker

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