ESPN/ABC Sports recruits Erhardt

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ESPN/ABC Sports tapped Edward R. Erhardt for the newly created post of president-advertising sales and customer marketing.

Mr. Erhardt, 41, steps down as VP-publisher of the Ad Age Group effective Sept. 30.

The move surprised a number of industry observers, in part because Mr. Erhardt's career until now has been in print, not TV.

"It certainly is out of pattern," said Dan Rank, director of Optimum Media, New York. "I don't know why you would choose someone with no experience in TV sales."

"ABC Sports and ESPN are superb sales organizations right now," responded Mr. Erhardt. "What I hope to bring to the table is a broad-based perspective of all the marketing and media tools you can bring to a very competitive, increasingly fragmented market. That's what I think I know better than anybody out there. I know a lot of very senior marketing and advertising executives, so I also bring relationships at the top."

LEARNING CURVE

"I wish him luck integrating two very different cultures," said Jon Mandel, co-chairman of Media Com, New York. "He has a huge cultural learning curve."

Mr. Mandel's reference was to the combination of the sales staffs of Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN and ABC Sports operations.

"I've been running Ad Age for 10 years. When you run a publication like that, you learn a lot about--and understand--how the television business works," said Mr. Erhardt. "I've called on every cable and broadcast network, so I understand how they are positioned, how they go to market, what they say and how they say it."

Mr. Erhardt will report to George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN, and Alex Wallau, president of ABC Network Administration & Operations.

NEW SALES STRUCTURE

Mr. Erhardt said he has not yet decided on a structure for the sales operation. But several media buyers said one scenario they heard is there will be two exec VPs under Mr. Erhardt, one for ad sales and another for customer marketing. Larry Fried, exec VP-marketing and general sales manager as well as exec VP-NFL Sales for ABC, has been mentioned as a candidate for the ad sales slot, while ESPN the Magazine Publisher Michael Rooney was said to be under consideration for the marketing job.

LONGTIME ASSOCIATIONS

Mr. Erhardt said he's had a longtime relationship with Mr. Bodenheimer. Mr. Erhardt also is close with Arnie Semsky, the former worldwide media director at BBDO Worldwide, who is now a consultant for ESPN and other companies.

A number of high-profile TV names had been bandied about in recent months for the ESPN/ABC Sports sales presidency. They include Joe Abruzzese, president, CBS Television Network Sales; Bill Cella, exec VP-broadcast and programming, McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York; Ray Warren, president-CEO, Raycom Sports; John Miller, NBC's supervisor of sports programming; and Neil Austrian, president of the National Football League.

Copyright September 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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