Sending Execs to 'Camp’

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ESPN has a solution for local cable sales representatives who might be intimidated by selling sports programming: Come to “Training Camp.”

Rather than practicing for a day on the field, ESPN’s training camps consist of a two-hour lunches attended predominantly by female account executives from local cable systems at local ESPN Zone restaurants or hotels.

Plying attendees with lessons ranging from how the best-of-seven format in the National Basketball Association finals works to which other networks sell well in packages with ESPN, the program shows sales executives they don’t have to be sports junkies to sell sports to local media buyers, according to ESPN account executive Pam Stinson.

COMFORT ZONES

“A lot of sales teams seem to be fixated on the things they’re comfortable with, and they won’t step out of the box to touch something that feels intimidating to them,” she said. “There are some women, and some men, who are not comfortable with sports. We’re trying to give them the confidence to step out of there and go out and try to sell sports.”

ESPN held its first Training Camp for local affiliates in Los Angeles on Feb. 17, drawing about 90 account executives from Adelphia Communications Corp., Time Warner Cable, Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc.

The network also held an event in Chicago, and last Wednesday Stinson led training camp at a hotel in Portland, Ore.

The next training camp will be June 20 in Boston, possibly at an IMAX theater, Stinson said.

Stinson said ESPN might sponsor training camp events in other large markets later this year, but emphasized one key goal is to have ESPN account executives take the events to smaller markets featuring smaller cable systems.

When ESPN has raised carriage fees in the past, some smaller operators have argued they don’t have the means to offset the cost of ESPN’s monthly license fee with local ad-sales revenue. “I think there’s more of a need [to hold the training camps] in smaller markets than some of the larger,” Stinson said. “That’s a goal of ours, to help take care of those operators to make sure they do come back with more revenue.”

Most of the attendees at the training camps have been local cable account executives, but Stinson said sales managers and vice presidents have also attended the events, which are paid for by ESPN.

SELL FIXED SPOTS

Before the training camps began, ESPN found some operators were selling packages of rotating spots on ESPN to local advertisers. The network believes it’s more effective to sell media buyers fixed spots for its programming,” Stinson said.

The sessions focus on ratings and demographics for ESPN, and advise account executives to package National Football League game coverage with college football, college basketball and Major League Baseball games.

Attendees get research that shows ESPN sells well in packages with Outdoor Life Network, Turner Network Television, Fox Sports Net affiliates and other networks, Stinson said. ESPN also presents campers with data culled by ESPN researchers about the local markets that host the events.

Network account executives Brian Wilkes and Monica Murphy have teamed up with Stinson at the training camps.

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