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Did ESPN Stop Short In Disclosing Corporate Endorsements of On-Air Talent?

April 18, 2011

Have you ever been interested in the different endorsements that ESPN commentators are involved with? Recently, there was an uproar about the relevancy of corporate affiliations of ESPN’s on-air talent when it was made public that the crew of ESPN College Gameday had deals with Nike (I wrote about it here). Now, ESPN has released a list of “relevant, approved” endorsements for its commentators.

It’s an interesting list, and one that has a specific purpose – to allow the ESPN viewer to know the sports-related corporate relationships that on-air talent enjoy. ESPN wants every viewer to be able to make his or her own judgment when deciding whether a commentator’s opinion is skewed by his or her corporate endorsements. The list is noticeably incomplete, for not every ESPN personality or known deal are represented. For example, Dick Vitale’s deal with Hooters is not included? Presumably, this is not relevant in the eyes of ESPN because “relevant, approved endorsements include those with companies that have ties to the sports world.”

This is ESPN’s self-defined term, but should relevant, approved endorsements look at a broader picture? ESPN’s definition of “ties to the sports world” seems to mean that the company provides apparel or equipment in the sports world. This is too narrow of a view, isn’t it? For example, Erin Andrews just did a campaign with Diet Mountain Dew, a Pepsi brand. Pepsi has the naming rights for the Pepsi Center in Denver which is home to the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche among others. Pepsi seems to have relevant ties to the sports world with such a large investment. Pepsi also has a relationship with the NFL. We know those funny Pepsi MAX commercials. Did you know that Pepsi also sponsors the NFL Rookie of the Year award? This is a separate award from the Offensive Rookie of the Year and the Defensive Rookie of the Year as voted on by the Associated Press.

Norby Williamson, ESPN Executive Vice President, Production, wrote last week that new guidelines related to endorsements for on-air talent and the publishing of the list serve in “protecting the integrity of [the] relationship” between sports fans and ESPN. If that is the goal, why ignore companies such as Pepsi just because they don’t make apparel or equipment?

– Jason

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2011 2:48 pm

    I got the impression from what I learned of this ESPN was trying to protect the ability of the coaches and former coaches they hire as commentators/analysts to still actively maintain sponsorship rights and simultaneously give the appearance they were clamping down on their own full-time talent having the same income potential. I am sure if someone at ESPN was so inclined they could test the company’s “law”…get fired…and win in court.

  2. April 21, 2011 3:40 pm

    Thanks for your comment. It’s an interesting move by ESPN that seems curious indeed.

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