New York -- The advertising-sales staffs of ESPN Inc. and
ABC Sports will be merged into a single, 170-person sales force, effective with the
mid-October arrival of Advertising Age publisher Ed Erhardt as president of ad
sales and customer marketing.
In a teleconference call, ESPN president George Bodenheimer
said last week that there would be no layoffs coming from this "major change in the
way ESPN and ABC Sports do business." Rather, he stressed, the goal is to "build
the biggest sales force. We're looking to grow what we have."
Erhardt, 41 -- who will report to both Bodenheimer and ABC
Television Network administration and operations president Alex Wallau -- said the
objective in assembling this "genre-specific core asset" around sports is
"to do more business with more customers."
Erhardt -- who joined Advertising Age in 1983,
becoming its publisher in 1989 -- has been vice president and group publisher of Crain
Communications Inc.'s Ad Age Group since 1993.
The concept of selling across multiple media platforms --
from four basic-cable networks and one broadcast network to Internet, magazine and radio
outlets -- "is the way [advertisers] want to do business," Wallau said.
According to a TN Media Inc. analysis of Nielsen Media
Research data released earlier this year, ABC and the ESPN networks account for a combined
36 percent of network-sports gross rating points -- well ahead of the GRPs generated by
the other "Big Four" TV networks and cable's Turner Sports.
Although the networks have engaged in cooperative selling
"in an ad hoc way" -- such as deals involving National Football League games and
World Cup soccer coverage -- Wallau said this announcement marks "a new structure.
There is [now] one entity, serving customers in a totally integrated way in all of
the selling we do."
The integration of the two hitherto separate sales forces
was first broached internally six months ago, Wallau said.
ESPN has long led other basic-cable networks in generating
local ad sales. Bodenheimer said last week that anything that bolsters national cable
sales can only be "positive for our local avails."
On the MSO side, Cable One Inc. vice president of ad sales
Ron Pancratz disputed the idea that the move is a blurring of the line between TV and
"We are television," he said. "Television is
television -- that's what we sell. It's far removed from our business -- local
ad sales in small markets -- but I tend to like that [ABC Sports/ESPN] association. The
next step is [combining ad sales for] CBS [Corp.] and Nickelodeon. I may be in the
minority, but I sort of like that."
Bodenheimer disputed the notion that this consolidation may
lead to volume discounting for major network clients. "This is about producing
efficient plans for marketers" and tailoring them to meet their needs, rather than
about offering bonuses or discounts to clients, he said.
Organizational details have yet to be finalized, Wallau
Although some ad-agency buyers wondered last week about
Erhardt's print background -- thus, his lack of TV and cable expertise -- Erhardt
addressed that point in Ad Age last week: "I've called on every cable and
broadcast network, so I understand how they are positioned, how they go to market."
Moreover, the ESPN/ABC announcement pointed to his leading Ad
Age onto the Internet and his establishment of its custom-publishing division to
produce "custom magazines and marketing programs" for various industry
Other industry sources predicted a culture clash between
the cable and broadcast staffs. But Wallau downplayed that by indicating that there's
already been "a melding" of the two in the past six months.
Among a half-dozen other executives who were mentioned by
various industry sources as contenders for the job Erhardt landed were CBS Television
Network president of sales Joe Abbruzzese, McCann-Erickson Worldwide executive vice
president of broadcast and programming Bill Cella and NBC Sports programming supervisor