Bratches to Head Merged ESPN-ABC Cable Sales

The Walt Disney Co. is merging the affiliate-sales forces of ESPN and ABC Cable Networks Group, with ESPN veteran Sean Bratches being promoted and put in charge of the new combined operation.

Bratches, most recently ESPN’s executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing, was named to the newly created post of president of Disney and ESPN Networks Affiliate Sales and Marketing, effective immediately.

Bratches will report to both George Bodenheimer, co-chairman of Disney’s Media Networks unit and president of ESPN and ABC Sports; and Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television.

As part of the consolidation Ben Pyne, ABC Cable’s senior VP of affiliate sales and marketing, has been promoted to the slot of executive VP of Disney and ESPN Affiliate Sales and Marketing. Pyne will now report to Bratches.

“We’re going to take best practices from both sales organizations and marry them into something that’s going to support our affiliate business well into the future,” Bratches said.

The consolidation, which takes effect Oct. 1, will put 10 cable networks under one tent, potentially giving Disney more leverage with distributors for its weaker services, like ABC Family.

Bratches maintained that the merging of the two affiliate-sales teams won’t result in layoffs, and that ESPN’s affiliate-sales team has been adding personnel “virtually every year” for the past 10 years, despite overall industry consolidation.

ESPN has 92 employees in affiliate sales, while ABC Cable has 68, according to Bratches.

Affiliate sales will be merged and centralized for ABC Family, Disney Channel, SOAPnet, Toon Disney, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNews, ESPN Deportes and ESPN HD.

The ABC Cable Networks Group is also being renamed Disney ABC Cable Networks Group as part of the changes.

The consolidation won’t take place until the fall because Disney is on a fiscal year that starts in October, and Bratches said he will use the time to meet with both the ESPN and ABC Cable affiliate-sales teams to create an organizational structure that will work best for the merger.

When asked if he will use ESPN’s leverage to help ABC Family, Bratches said, “Where opportunities exist, and where opportunities make sense for both ESPN and our affiliates, we will discuss those opportunities.”

For more on Disney and ESPN Networks Affiliate Sales and Marketing, please see Linda Moss’ story on page four of Monday’s edition of Multichannel News.