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ESPN, ABC Set 'Upfront-Style' Sales Pitch

ESPN and ABC Sports will cohost an "upfront-style" sales presentation to the advertising community on Oct. 29.

ESPN has not made such sales pitches in prior upfront seasons, said ESPN/ABC Sports president of customer marketing and sales Ed Erhardt last Wednesday.

Erhardt is expecting more than 600 advertiser and ad-agency buyers at the New York event. Rather than then taking the pitch on the road, he said the networks will televise it for others gathered in Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

"Historically, ESPN hasn't done an upfront presentation the way the broadcast TV and cable networks do [for their new primetime programming], because we're sports," he said.

But by hosting such a bash in the fall, "when we don't have 30 or so other networks to compete with," he said, "we're the only game in town."

Erhardt acknowledged that ESPN and ABC Sports had already sold much of their time for the 2002-2003 TV season during the upfront last spring and summer. Nonetheless, there's other inventory to sell. For instance, calendar-year deals are negotiated after the upfront, and ESPN's magazine and Web site avails are sold as part of those deals, he said.

The event will tout "what's new and what's next at ESPN/ABC Sports," said Erhardt. One new wrinkle is the National Basketball Association, which hasn't appeared on ESPN since 1984 or on the Alphabet Network since 1973. ESPN/ABC Sports will detail how the league will be covered and promoted. (The pro hoops league's season tips Oct. 29 with national games on Turner Network Television.)

Moreover, ESPN and ABC have accelerated their sales press in recent weeks to move NBA inventory in both the regular season and the playoffs. (ABC will air the NBA Finals.)

"The NBA marketplace is going on even as we speak," Erhardt said, noting that "we sold a little NBA in the upfront."

Also available is time on ABC and ESPN's National Hockey League Stanley Cup Finals telecasts, and on ABC's coverage of the National Football League's Super Bowl XXXVII.

ABC is now "75 [percent] to 80 percent sold" on the Super Bowl, said Erhardt, adding that fewer than 15 advertising units remain available.

Erhardt will also call attention to multi-platform opportunities, although he said he will not delve into great detail at the upcoming event.

As part of the festivities — slated for Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall — the networks will bring out their on-air sports talent and also host "a commissioners' roundtable." In the latter, the heads of the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball and the Professional Golfers' Association will offer their views on the outlook for sports.