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Unified sales team

ESPN, ABC Sports hire Erhardt to run unit

NEW YORK — Walt Disney’s ESPN and ABC Sports have merged their advertising sales staffs and hired the publisher of Advertising Age, Edward Erhardt, to run the joint operation.

“Our goal is to build the biggest and most powerful sales and marketing force in the industry,” said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN, during a conference call with reporters. Erhardt will get the new title of president, advertising sales and customer marketing, for ESPN/ABC Sports.

Alex Wallau, president of administration and operations for the ABC-TV Network, acknowledged that the separate staffs of ESPN and ABC Sports have worked together in the past, citing the 60 advertiser deals the two have chalked up for the National Football League, whose primetime games run exclusively on ESPN (Sunday) and ABC (Monday).

“But those were event-driven negotiations — the ESPN sales staff and the ABC salespeople still had an us-against-them mentality,” Wallau said. “We’ve now unified our sales force so that it will close deals day in and day out.”

No firings planned

The combined sales operation encompasses 170 people, Bodenheimer said, adding that he has no plans to engineer any mass firings.

More and more advertisers are searching for deals that would get their messages out across a number of media platforms, Bodenheimer said.

In addition to the “core entities” of ABC Sports, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic and ESPN News, the merged operation is offering “integrated packages” encompassing seven extra platforms: ESPN.com, ABC Sports.com, MNF.com (referring to “Monday Night Football”), ESPN Regional Television, ESPN Radio, ESPN the Magazine and ESPN Zone.