Geri Wang (left) and Ed Erhardt

Upfronts 2015: ESPN, ABC Join Forces on Football, Mornings

Disney networks expect to reach large unduplicated audience

Related: ESPN’s Skipper: Parting Ways With Bill Simmons Was Business, Not Personal

Walt Disney Co. siblings ESPN and ABC are finding more ways to work together.

At ESPN’s upfront presentation Tuesday morning, the sports network said the ESPYs would air on ABC this season and that its NFL Wild Card playoff game would be simulcast on both networks.

With ESPN reaching massive quantities of male viewers and ABC delivering loads of women, the two nets will work together on advertising packages at New Years, when ABC has long featured Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve broadcast and ESPN will air college football playoff games.

They will also work together in the morning, when ESPN will have a new a.m. edition of SportsCenter and the Mike & Mike show will move to a studio above Good Morning America in Times Square. The two shows will overlap, with talent from one visiting the other on occasion.

ESPN president John Skipper—who is also co-chairman of Disney and ESPN media networks—said that ESPN will be opportunistic in working with ABC. He said ESPN brought the playoff game simulcast idea to the league. “I want us to have the highest-rated playoff game,” he said.

“We’ve got a huge unduplicated audience,” added Ed Erhardt, who was promoted to president, global customer marketing and sales at ESPN. Bringing the networks together creates an audience of 71 million viewers in the morning, and advertisers will pay to reach that larger audience, he said.

For the second-straight year, Erhardt and ABC’s president of ad sales Geri Wang shared a stage. Erhardt said that the two networks made a few deals together this season, setting the stage for Tuesday’s announcements. “The advertising packages are on the way,” Erhardt assured the buyers and clients sitting in the audience.

At Disney’s competitors, NBCUniversal and 21st Century Fox, sports is part of a consolidated ad sales operation.

ESPN also announced plans to jump into the late night fray with a midnight (Eastern time) edition of SportCenter anchored solo by Scott Van Pelt. Erhardt said the show gives ESPN a chance to play in a new marketplace—late night—which is already popular with advertisers.

Of course there was talk about data. ESPN made a deal with Cablevision Systems which will provide set-top box data on ESPN viewers. That data can be combined with ESPN’s first person online information and with other purchase information to help advertisers target their customers.

In one vignette, Lisa Cochrane, head of marketing at Allstate, talked about a college sports ad program that helped identify fans of specific schools and deliver custom messages. The program delivered a 52% higher response rate than is typical.

To talk more about data, ESPN called on the inimitable Kenny Mayne.

“We’re the first company to bamboozle you before 10 a.m.,” said Mayne warming up, trying to explain when networks say they’re putting data in your hand, that’s a metaphor because data is literally zeros and ones. “Data used to be smaller. Now it’s big,” he said.

“I’m standing around like a total dork. I am big data. I will zero and one you while ESPN nickels and dimes you. You chose this life, you big advertisers.”

The theme of ESPN’s presentation was the ESPN impression. Erhardt talk about how some advertising impressions work harder and deliver more. “Passion matters and no audience is more passionate than sports fans,” he said.

Erhardt noted that while technology is disrupting most of the TV world, it makes sports better. “It makes the game around the game better and ESPN thrives at this interaction between technology and content.”

While other media companies brace for a tough upfront, Erhardt said “we feel pretty positive sports will do well.”

He said right now the NBA playoffs well is ringing up sales in an improving scatter market. With viewership up and two series going to game six, ESPN has rating points to sell, unlike many other networks.

Erhardt said that the football market hasn’t started to move, but that after the success of last year’s college football playoffs, more advertisers are in talk with ESPN about being involved.