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Published March 23, 2009
David Preschlack was getting off a plane at New York’s JFK Airport last March when he spotted Michael Levine, co-head of CAA Sports. Levine and Preschlack were on the same plane, having flown in from Los Angeles where they both were part of SportsBusiness Journal’s 2008 Forty Under 40 class.
As the two started talking and introducing their wives to each other, Levine turned to his spouse and described Preschlack as someone who works in ESPN’s affiliate group. “Nobody knows what these guys do,” he said, “but they’re the ones that make everything tick.”
Preschlack smiled as he recalled that story. He recognizes that his department flies under the radar, unknown to many of the top executives in sports media.
And that’s just the way he likes it.
“A lot of that is because the sports business is rooted in league partnership relationships and the sponsorship world,” Preschlack said. “We don’t mind it. We like to stay under the radar and do whatever we can to best get us from point A to point B.”
Take ESPN’s SEC deal, for example. Well before ESPN committed $2.25 billion over the next 15 years for the TV rights to the Southeastern Conference, ESPN’s brass huddled with the affiliate group to see if the deal made sense. Preschlack, among others, convinced ESPN that the high price tag would be worth it, when you consider the added distribution channels like ESPNU and broadband sites like ESPN360 would get, thanks to the SEC content.
“We’re not brought into this at the end,” Preschlack said. “What I really enjoy is that our point of view means a lot in terms of whether or not we decide to move ahead with something like that.”
Preschlack’s group is consulted on every major decision the company makes. They determine what a deal’s impact would be on the affiliate business. For example, you can blame Preschlack for the fact that you can’t see “SportsCenter” on ESPN.com. “That’s obviously going to compromise our video subscription business,” he said.
Like many at ESPN, Preschlack started as an intern working the overnight shift in the videotape library. But he has spent the majority of his 14-year career working for Sean Bratches, ESPN’s executive vice president of sales and marketing.
When Bratches was promoted to oversee ad sales and marketing in 2006, Preschlack was given more responsibility, essentially running the affiliate sales department.
“David has adopted a more-is-better approach to interacting with his group,” Bratches said, “and from my chair this is paying off for ESPN.”
With a license fee for ESPN that eclipses $4 per subscriber per month, much of Preschlack’s job involves maintaining relationships with the biggest cable and satellite operators — the ones that pay that rate. Many of them view Preschlack as a friend.
“David bleeds ESPN and has taken the art of saying no to a new level when it comes to affiliate negotiations,” said EchoStar Vice Chairman Carl Vogel. “Nonetheless, David is a good person and fun to be around when license fees and ad avails are not at stake.”