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Betron Affecting Change at ESPN

Sales Exec Leads Multicultural Efforts at Sports Giant, Parent Disney 1/25/2016 8:00 AM Eastern
ESPN's Patricia Betron

PATRICIA BETRON

TITLE: Senior VP, Multimedia Sales, ESPN

 

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Joined ESPN as a director in customer marketing and sales in 1999, becoming the unit’s first female senior VP in 2005. Spent 10 years at ABC, in national sales and at local and regional sales positions, after working in research at NBC.

 

QUOTE: “I think we’ve done a better job of multiculturally hiring people in front of the camera and behind the camera that reflect our audience. It has been a really big focus and we see it paying off.”

— Patricia Betron

 

Patricia Betron wanted to be a broadcast journalist, so she enrolled at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications after graduating high school in her hometown of Stoughton, Mass.

 

Attending classes with the likes of talented future pro Mike Tirico — the Monday Night Football announcer who’s now her colleague at ESPN — helped persuade her to follow a different interest, in the business side of television.

 

That was a smart move, as was her later decision, while working at the ABC-owned WLS-TV in Chicago, to switch from research to sales. A sales manager at the station thought the passion and knowledge she shared while on sales calls appealed to clients and were bringing in business.

 

Betron also shrewdly became an advocate for ESPN’s efforts to make programming, hiring and marketing efforts aimed at Hispanic and multicultural audiences. She served on the Hispanic Priority Committee for ESPN as part of a Walt Disney Co.-wide initiative.

 

She helped develop an insights study on “The Bi- Cultural Hispanic Sports Fan Media Behaviors” and worked with National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA to administer the NBA/ESPN Hispanic Priority Summit in 2013. Disney CEO Robert Iger has recognized her as a “Top 10 Diversity Change Agent” at the company.

 

Betron said multicultural outreach was an easy priority to support, because so many clients wanted help reaching those audiences. When speaking with chief marketing officers, she said, “it was one of the top things they brought up right out of the gate.”

 

FINDING THE RIGHT SOLUTIONS

 

Helping customers solve problems is what appeals to Betron most about sales.

 

Wendy’s, the fast-food chain, had if not a problem at least a desire to leverage its spending with ESPN more effectively than had been the case before Tim Sullivan became vice president of media there in 2010.

 

“That became a challenge to Trish and her team to come back to us with something that they believed was more in tune with what we were solving for,” Sullivan said.

 

Betron’s team’s solution was for Wendy’s to back the John R. Wooden Award, presented annually to college basketball’s best player. It has become “probably the single largest partnership Wendy’s has, from a media standpoint,” Sullivan said, and has given Wendy’s the kind of visibility it’s wanted since getting on board for the 2012-13 season.

 

Wendy’s found in the Wooden Award a prestigious prize that still has a ways to go before it has the prominence of the Heisman Award for college football’s best player, Sullivan said.

 

And ESPN astutely pointed out similarities between the legendary UCLA coach for whom the award is named and Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, who’s known for introducing new products, for leadership and for emphasizing quality, he said.

 

“They really solved for our needs in a creative way,” said Sullivan, who counts Betron as a friend.

 

COUNSELING HER COLLEAGUES

 

In 2005, Betron became the first female senior vice president in ESPN’s Customer Marketing and Sales organizations, and she has steadily added responsibilities there. She oversees multimedia sales teams in Detroit, Chicago and New York. She also leads ESPN CMS’s Sales Communications team, positioning ESPN’s collection of audiences, rather than just sports properties.

 

Ed Erhardt, the president of ESPN’s global CMS operation, said she’s widely admired for the support and counsel she’s given to so many at the company — men and women alike — who ask for advice on how to excel in the business while also finding that ever-elusive balance of work and home life.

 

“I think Tricia is seen as a role model for women who work at ESPN,” Erhardt said.

 

Betron — who, after stints at NBC and ABC, joined ESPN in 1999 in a sales unit that targeted new business opportunities — and her husband, Cliff , have a son, Zachary, age 13, and a daughter, Hannah, who’s 12. Cliff is a stay-at-home dad. “Our family is very fortunate Cliff has taken on that role,” she said. “He is a great partner and wonderful father.”

 

But Betron has always tried to either be home for tuckins or, if traveling, to call at a predictable time, as such rituals are important. She also was able to take Hannah to the espnW Summit in California, which gave Hannah a different perspective on what her mom is like on the job.

 

‘NEVER A BORING DAY’

 

Betron’s mom was a single mother, she said, role-modeling for her four kids (Patricia is second oldest) how to be responsible and “striving.”

 

Among important business mentors, Betron cites Erhardt and ESPN executive vice president Eric Johnson, her direct boss, in addition to ESPN chief financial officer Christine Driessen, who’s “hugely supportive of women at ESPN and me in particular.”

 

Asked about how ESPN’s recent news — in which acknowledgement of subscriber losses helped prompt a selloff in media stocks — had affected her work, Betron said: “I’d rather be here than in any other place. The changes that are happening in the industry are exhilarating. What a time to be part of a company that is thinking ahead and has been planning ahead and has such great assets and brands that, no matter what happens, they’re always going to appeal to consumers and to businesses.

 

“It keeps it interesting, that’s for sure. There’s never a boring day.”

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