For breakfast, Manish Jha pours himself a bowl of Corn Flakes, and his 5-year-old gets Cheerios. They have different tastes, so why should they eat the same cereal?

Jha, senior vice president and general manager for new cell phone service Mobile ESPN, is asking a similar question of die-hard sports fans: You have different tastes from non-sports fans, so why should you use the same cell phone?

Mobile ESPN begins its national roll-out today, with a 60-second Super Bowl ad flogging its new $199 mobile phone available at Best Buy. With video clips and sports columns from ESPN’s sports shows, televised games and magazine, Mobile ESPN aims to satiate the hungriest sports fanatic — and information-hungry sports bettor.

The phone service is the latest in a growing wave of phones targeted at slices of the market. If you have a passion, chances are someone’s thinking of a phone service for you.

Like the latest phones from Asia, the kind with upmarket features that never reach the United States? Helio Inc. hopes to have your number when it debuts this spring. Crave dirt bikes, skateboards, loud music and big air? Amp’d Mobile made its debut Jan. 6. Movido speaks the language of the Hispanic communities. Cbeyond is targeting small businesses. Disney, which owns Mobile ESPN, is planning a phone service targeted at kids. Big carriers such as Cingular, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless are selling space on their networks to companies that are selling lifestyle along with the phone. Helio and other so-called mobile virtual network operators (or MVNOs) buy cell phone minutes from the big boys at wholesale prices, find a company to make phones for them, market to customers and arrange to accept their monthly payments.

The MVNOs get to trumpet their brands to hip consumers, and the wireless carriers get to sell minutes and megabytes of data to young people, sports nuts and others with particular passions whom the carriers might have been unable to attract otherwise.

That helps pay for the billions of dollars wireless companies have spent to make networks big enough to allow phone users to surf the Web, play music and sports videos and e-mail photos and movies. That’s how the industry plans to keep growing, now that the United States has 200 million wireless subscriptions.

These niche phone service resellers don’t need to reach tens of millions of customers to succeed.

“If Mobile ESPN has 3 million customers by the end of the decade paying $65 a month, they will be doing very well,” says Ken Hyers, chief wireless industry analyst for ABI Research.

Virgin Mobile USA made the concept popular stateside, drawing attention when subscribers topped 2 million. The young target audience spent $10 to $15 a month – not enough to attract the big boys, but enough to make a nice chunk of change for Virgin Mobile. Now, Mobile ESPN, Helio and Cbeyond are targeting users who don’t mind shelling out for unique services.

As the new kids, MVNOs are also creating a new way to think of phone plans. While the big carriers have you pay for the number of minutes you use, then charge you more for the data you use to watch TV clips or play games, the new companies are coming out with flat pricing plans. Mobile ESPN, for instance, charges $34.99 a month for 100 minutes of talk time up to $224.99 for 4,000 minutes of talk time, but the data are free. Watch all the highlights of the “Pardon the Interruption” talk show you want, but pay if you want to talk: The Mobile ESPN phone, then, is more like a data device with a phone attached.

“It’s no longer a cell phone. That will become a term of the past,” says Rob Mesirow, vice president of operations for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, the wirelesss industry trade group.

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