Justin Connolly to Head Disney, ESPN Distribution

ESPN named Justin Connolly, who has headed up college networks (including the SEC Network), as new head of distribution at ESPN and Disney networks, following the recently announced plans by Sean Bratches and David Preschlack to leave at year's end. Before overseeing the successfully launched SEC Network, Connolly spent a decade in ESPN affiliate sales and he had been speculated as a possible successor to Preschlack. Connolly's new title is the one Preschlack held, executive vice president, Disney & ESPN Affiliate Sales and Marketing.

ESPN also elevated Ed Erhardt to president, global sales & marketing, enhancing his portfolio with consumer marketing, ad sales and research. Bratches, who was the longtime head of ESPN distribution efforts, had seen his role expand over the years to include ad sales and other roles, and Preschlack rose to oversee distribution. Pictured: Erhardt left, Connolly right.

Here is the ESPN release:

Two company veterans, Ed Erhardt and Justin Connolly, have been elevated to key positions within ESPN and Disney Media Networks, respectively.

Erhardt, now President, Global Sales & Marketing, will broaden his role to include oversight of consumer marketing, research and advertising sales business operations. In addition to leading an award-winning sales team that provides marketers the widest array of premier multimedia and marketing platforms across the ESPN umbrella, he will be responsible for developing an insights-driven marketing and data organization supporting one of the company’s most important revenue streams: advertising sales. Erhardt will report to John Skipper, ESPN President and Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks.

Connolly has been promoted to EVP, Disney & ESPN Affiliate Sales and Marketing. In this role, Connolly will oversee all aspects of domestic distribution and affiliate marketing including affiliate-related business operations for Disney and ESPN Media Networks including ABC Family, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Fusion, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Bases Loaded, Longhorn Network, SEC ESPN Network, and related Watch, HDTV, video-on-demand, interactive television and retransmission consent agreements for The Walt Disney Company’s eight-owned ABC stations. Based in Bristol and New York, Connolly will report to Skipper and Ben Sherwood, President, Disney/ABC Television Group and Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks, working closely with Ben Pyne, President, Global Distribution, Disney Media Networks.

Skipper said: “Ed and Justin have been at the forefront in developing industry-shaping sales initiatives during some of the most exciting times in our company’s history. They are best-suited to create new opportunities for ESPN in the most dynamic media landscape ever.”

Sherwood said: “An outstanding and strategic executive, Justin has a long track record of developing and executing innovative revenue opportunities for Disney/ABC Television, elevating not only our strong brands and services, but those of our distributors. His extensive understanding of our industry from both a distribution and programming perspective is tremendously valuable as we work with distribution partners to create new opportunities that better serve our consumers. I look forward to working with him.”

Erhardt said: “Connecting marketing, data, research and sales more closely is the next step in responding to the changing advertising landscape, and it will position ESPN at the center of where the business is going. Providing our customers with insights that drive their business is critical. The special relationship sports fans have with the ESPN brand provides us with a unique opportunity to innovate with data and creativity, in order to connect our customers’ brands with our fans at scale.”

Connolly said: “I grew up in affiliate sales and appreciate all the work they do, especially after getting SEC Network in more households at launch than any other new network. I’m looking forward to pressing ahead and working with the team on distribution strategies that will meet the growing demands of viewers and their desire to watch the industry’s best news, sports and kids content in entertainment across all screens.”

Erhardt’s leadership at ESPN – spanning 16 years – has been defined by continued innovation in serving advertisers. He worked with Skipper in establishing the industry’s first integrated sales organization across media platforms, widely hailed as the model for future media marketing and selling. His sales and marketing group is ranked at the top of the industry by Myers Reports and Beta Research year after year in innovation and integrated marketing success. Erhardt previously worked at Advertising Age, where he served in a variety of roles which culminated as Vice President/Group Publisher, responsible for all content and business operations. During that time, he was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Achievement.

Connolly was formerly Senior Vice President of College Networks, which included the oversight of the SEC Network, the most successful new network ever launched in cable history. Prior to that, he spent 10 years in affiliate sales and marketing for Disney and ESPN Media Networks, most recently as Senior Vice President of National Accounts. In that capacity, he played a central role in developing the company’s long-term distribution strategy. He recently was selected to the Sports Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Hall of Fame. Prior to joining ESPN, Connolly worked in the corporate finance group for The Walt Disney Company’s corporate treasury department in Burbank, Calif.

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Nexttv.com. Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.