A New Marketing World For On-Air Sports Hosts -- But Are They Also Reporters?

by , Feb 16, 2011, 3:00 PM
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Worried if Nike has ESPN's announcers in its pocket? I'm not too concerned -- though viewers might be.

Seems all of ESPN's "College GameDay" crew -- Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit -- have deals with Nike for doing speaking engagements on the brand's behalf, and wearing footwear not seen on-air. This is nothing new. A number of network sports personalities, including others at ESPN, have marketing deals.

For many, the logical conflict-of-interest question comes down to informing the public. To some, it's not like these guys are reporting on financial malfeasance, Egyptian revolutionaries, or toxins in drinking water. This is college football.

But the trouble here isn't with the day-to-day reporting of college football. What happens if an off-the-field incident, perhaps a sports marketing story, needs coverage? Nike is a business partner of ESPN, and also has deals with universities.

Perhaps an off-the-field incident on a college campus would need some discussion, one that might have an effect on a TV sports marketer. ESPN's crew doesn't appear in TV commercials for Nike. Thank you very much.

It makes sense. Highly presentable TV personalities could moderate or motivate a crowd for a Nike-sponsored event. But let's get their profile right. Are they in fact "hosts" or "reporters"?

If Tom Bergeron or Ryan Seacrest got the same deal, what would be the public's response? That's easy. Let's move to the other side of things -- what if Brian Williams, Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer had Nike deals? You can be sure viewers might want to know this information.

The big question for consumers these days is to what level all this marketing stuff concerns them when supposed real journalists information are involved. Bob Steele, director of the Prindle Institute for Ethics and a journalism professor at DePauw University, told the New York Times: "You do have to wonder why a sports journalist, or any journalist, would wander in this kind of ethical minefield without recognizing the consequences."

That little adjustment on Steele's part is just the issue: First, he made a reference to "sports" journalist, then to "any" journalist. We might all say the same thing.

The key question to ask: Is there a meaningful journalistic difference between the two -- especially in today's complex digital marketing and content world?

0 comments on "A New Marketing World For On-Air Sports Hosts -- But Are They Also Reporters?".

  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: February 16, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.

    Journalists have choices. Journalists must adhere to a no endorsement policy. If they can't, then perhaps this is not the choice for them and they could find fullfillment in another profession. That really is OK, too. If they are presented with a product to review, then either they return it within 2 weeks or they tell the audience they got it as part of the exchange of services and they include it into their income taxes as income. It does not have to be that complicated.

  2. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360
    commented on: February 16, 2011 at 3:56 p.m.

    Sports journalism is distinct from hard news and celebrity reporting. Brian Williams, Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer have always been journalists. While neither Tom Bergeron nor Ryan Secrest are journalists, any endorsements arose from the vehicles they represent.

    The difference is many sports journalists were once sports stars. The number is increasing. Athletes simply understand the nuances of the game, hence they know who's who and in general ask better questions.

    Many of these sports journalists had sponsorship deals that pre-date their signing-on as journalists. The deals of which you speak are often just continuations of the older deals. ESPN, CBS, etc sign on these athletes knowing full well their history. Likewise, the audience for pro sports sees no conflict when a former athlete does on-air commentary and is a spokesman for a product advertised on-air. Howie Long does analysis for Fox Sports and is also a pitchman for Sprint, a longtime advertiser on Fox Sports. I doubt there have been conflict of interest issues: Long talks sports, and any on-air mentions of Sprint are done in such a way as to make it clear they are sponsors.

  3. Stanford Crane from NewGuard Entertainment Corp
    commented on: February 16, 2011 at 4:11 p.m.

    what about every NFL pre/post-game show? Let's not put too much weight on this, it's not THAT important. If it is, why have advertising at all?

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