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September 18, 1997|LARRY STEWART

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: ESPN--The Store

Where: Glendale Galleria

Just when you thought there were no more worlds for ESPN to conquer, it found one. There are ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN International, ESPN Radio, the ESPN SportsZone web site and the ESPN Club at Disney's Boardwalk in Orlando. Now ESPN is getting into the sports merchandise business. ESPN--The Store opened this week at the Glendale Galleria. It is the first of what will probably become a chain.

The Disney Store opened at the Glendale Galleria 10 years ago, and now there are more than 630 of them in 11 countries. With Disney now owning ESPN, an ESPN store is a natural.

"It's another way to bring ESPN directly to its fans," said Steven M. Bornstein, ESPN president, who was at Tuesday's opening. Disney chairman Michael Eisner was also on hand, and celebrities included Dick Vitale, who emceed the affair, and surprise guest Joe Montana.

The 4,500-square-foot store offers more than sports merchandise. Interactive kiosks allow fans to sample sports videos and CDs, play sports video games, preview sports fantasy vacations and access ESPN SportsZone.

Visitors can catch ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS on six 120-inch big screens while lounging in giant baseball glove-shaped leather chairs in what is called the "ultimate living room." But the main function of the store is to sell sports merchandise--apparel, accessories, electronics, memorabilia and gifts. Almost everything has an ESPN logo on it. There's no mistaking ESPN owns this store, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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