By Published on .

and Chuck Ross

Walt Disney Co. is close to combining its ABC Sports and ESPN ad sales units in what could be a prelude to further integration of its various ad sales divisions.

Network and agency sports specialists last week were discussing a short list of names of candidates believed in the running to head it.

Being mentioned are Joe Abruzzese, president, CBS Television Network Sales; Bill Cella, exec VP-broadcast and programming at McCann-Erickson Worldwide; Larry Fried, ABC's exec VP-NFL sales and the network's exec VP-marketing and general sales manager; Jeffrey Mahl, ESPN's senior VP-ad sales; and Ray Warren, president-CEO at Raycom Sports.

None of the individuals could be reached for comment.

Some network insiders speculate that in the not-too-distant future, Disney will combine all of its ad sales functions.

"For example, I could see our syndication outfit, Buena Vista Television Advertising Sales, combine with daytime sales of the network," said one ABC executive. "That kind of thing."


ABC has issued a statement that reads: "Within the Walt Disney Co. family of media assets, we are exploring a variety of ways to better meet the needs of our clients. Sales integration is just one area we are looking into."

Talk of the ABC Sports/ESPN combo comes as the network finally comes out with its pricing for Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000, which is half sold out.

Media buyers said the network is asking, on average, $1.9 million to $2 million per 30-second spot, depending upon the package.

"They'd like you to combine it with some pregame or postgame spots," said one agency buyer.

Thirty-second spots on this year's Super Bowl, on Fox, went for an average of about $1.6 million each. Other NFL football pricing is out as well.

Fox is looking for 15% cost-per-thousand increases; CBS is asking for 12% CPM hikes; while ESPN is going for a modest 7% to 9% price improvement.

Despite lower ratings this past season, ABC's "NFL Monday Night Football" is looking for 16% price gains.


"The NFL is reasonably priced," said Chuck Bachrach, exec VP-media resources and programming at Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif. "ESPN is probably the most reasonable."

By the time most ad deals are struck, buyers expect average CPM increases to be in the high single digits.

Sellers are being cautious this season, media executives said, because there was so much unsold inventory last year that eventually was sold at a discount.


Approximately 20% of national TV NFL inventory already has been sold, according to the executives. There is, however, significant inventory already spoken for through multiyear network deals with automobile, beer and financial services advertisers.

ABC has been posting big deals for "NFL Monday Night Football," which remains the network's best-rated prime-time program. Agency executives said the network has been inking deals in the $350,000 to $360,000 range, up from the $330,000 it was getting during last year's schedule.

ESPN unit pricing was around $100,000 to $110,000 a :30 for its Sunday night games; CBS was inking $120,000 to $150,000 a unit last year, while Fox was

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