One Chief for ESPN and ABC Sports, by George

ABC Sports is losing its president, Howard Katz, and the network said last week, George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN, will now run ABC Sports as well.

The management structure is similar to the one put in place in the early 1990s when Steve Bornstein, then head of ESPN, was put in charge of both networks. At the time, Dennis Swanson was president of ABC Sports and resigned.

ABC's announcement last week indicated that Katz resigned to pursue other interests, which is often corporate-speak for getting the hook.

During a teleconference, though, ABC Television Network President Alex Wallau insisted that Katz wasn't pushed "in any way" and was the one who brought up his desire to resign. To pursue other interests. Really.

Despite widespread rumors to the contrary, Wallau strongly denied that tension between him and Katz led to the latter's departure. "This announcement today is not a result of any issues between Howard and myself on how he ran ABC Sports."

Wallau said it was only after Katz raised his desire to step down that the company decided to revert to the previous management structure with Bodenheimer in charge. Katz was not on the conference call, and Wallau deferred all questions about when he decided to leave and his future plans to Katz himself. But subsequent to the call, ABC officials said Katz would not be available for interviews. Maybe next week—his last day at ABC is March 14.

A 10-year veteran of ABC Sports/ESPN, Katz was named president of ABC Sports in 1999. He has been in the business for 32 years and was previously president of Ohlmeyer Communications Corp. Bodenheimer has spent most of his career at ESPN, joining the network in 1982 as an affiliate sales rep. He was president by 1998.

According to the network, ABC Sports and ESPN will continue to run as two separate operations. Which of course prompts the question: If you're going to have one executive run them both, why not merge the entities and save untold millions on all the back-office overhead?

Here's the answer, according to Bodenheimer: "They are two very distinct and separate businesses. ABC Sports is such an integral part of ABC Television. At ESPN, we have a minority partner with the Hearst Corp. So, for those two reasons, it makes sense to keep them as two separate organizations."

Indeed, ABC's broadcast affiliates, including Hearst-Argyle (in which Hearst has a controlling stake) and many others, have told the network they oppose a merger of the two networks or any moves that would dilute the ABC Sports brand.

Bodenheimer will continue to report to Walt Disney Co. President Bob Iger, while coordinating with Wallau on ABC Sports activities. In the release, Iger said the management change will make both operations more efficient, "particularly in our dealings with sports leagues and other rights sellers."

Bodenheimer told reporters last week that ABC Sports would love to get back in the Olympics game, but only "at the right financial deal." He emphasized Iger's point that the management change "would make it easier for our company to organize ourselves for major rights acquisitions."