ESPN, Scott Van Pelt, and the Advertising/Editorial Barrier

First, you must watch this video, for it is hilarious. (HT to NESW Sports for having it early this morning.)

It’s a wonderful bit of personality and a great ad for EA Sports’ upcoming Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 10. It’s where it is located that brings up something a little more troubling.

If you go to YouTube and view it, as I did, it’s hard not to notice the ESPN branding about the page:

(Please excuse the sloppy MS Paint crop.)

(Click to circumvent the sloppy MS Paint crop and blurry image quality.)

The PGA TOUR has uploaded this video, too. That makes sense; they’re promoting their brand. But what is ESPN doing? (For the record: While the screen capture would indicate that image is displayed at the beginning of the video, I captured it at the 0:16 mark.)

It’s not earth-shattering to say that ESPN straddles the border between editorial and advertising content in its “entertainment and sports” approach, sometimes ineffectively.

This would seem to be one of those times, what with an ad for an EA Sports property that happens to feature an ESPN personality sharing space on this page with editorial content about Kobe Bryant and Floyd Mayweather. (The video below the Bryant one is about Plaxico Burress’ ongoing legal troubles; I cropped it for space.) It’s also free publicity (though not, presumably, a paid advertisement) for Twitter to be featured in the episode of “Mayne Street” that can be found on that page. And “Mayne Street,” it’s safe to say, is clearly not editorial content.

ESPN’s YouTube account, more generally, could and should be considered editoral. Look at that video library; it’s stocked with pieces from Outside the Lines, content from SportsCenter, and other such straight news. The video with Van Pelt and Woods is from EA Sports and just as obviously not editorial; it will, I’m guessing, run in a shorter version on ESPN, perhaps, for example, this one, from EA Sports on YouTube, in paid space.

Is this a crisis? No. And all one needs to do to see that it’s more or less frivolous is click this link to read about what’s currently happening in Iran from people on the ground near Tehran.

But if Gawker can get raked over the coals for featuring content from a sponsored blog on their site, why not ESPN? This goes beyond the sponsored segments on SportsCenter and NFL Live and all of that: It’s advertising that could easily be confused for editorial content.

What’s more, I’m sure it’s not the first, most egregious, or last abuse of their position as both a producer of entertainment and a journalistic entity.

And yet, this is probably as much as will ever be made of conflict, with ESPN’s ombudsman position still vacant after Le Anne Schreiber’s departure. (Update: If Daulerio is correct, there won’t be a vacancy for much longer. That’s good.)

Blurring the lines is what ESPN does best. But it’s the willful ignorance of or fatigue regarding such encroachments on responsible journalism that makes this colossus seem stainless.

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5 Comments

Filed under Advertising, ESPN, Journalism

5 responses to “ESPN, Scott Van Pelt, and the Advertising/Editorial Barrier

  1. firstderivative

    The problem is no one is calling ESPN out over this.

  2. If the advertising content is funnier/more original than ESPN’s original stuff — like this EA ad is — then I’m not so sure I have a problem with it at all. ESPN makes no bones about being a soulless, money-hungry corporate monstrosity.

    Gawker, meanwhile, tries to play itself off as some sort of refreshing counter-culture entity, constantly ripping on how beholden more mainstream outlets are. I think that’s the nature of the disparity in criticism.

  3. True. And this sure isn’t the first time ESPN has done stuff like this—pal around with the athletes they are supposedly covering. Good article.

  4. Pingback: The Rookies » Blog Archive » ESPN and Blurring Lines: This Time, the Blue One

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