ESPN Releases New Endorsement Policy for On-Air Talent

As reported by Geoff Shackelford this week for his blog and Golf Digest, the "nationwide leader in sports" -- ESPN -- has released a new policy in regard to endorsements for the network's on-air talent.  Simply put, on-air hosts and play-by-play commentators for ESPN are no longer allowed to take on new endorsements for any product or service with a third-party company.  Shackelford also points out that -- according to Sports Business Journal's John Ourand -- that this policy is related to a possible conflict of interest for the network's talent and their position with the company.

But you can’t convince me that it makes good business sense to have people that you want the public to trust on the payroll of companies they talk about on-air. Forget journalism. It’s a core business conduct issue.

“More than 50 percent of the fans probably don’t care,” Williamson said. “But there’s a section of fans that do. If we can improve our product for them, why don’t we do that?”

Under ESPN’s new guidelines, analysts — former athletes and coaches — can continue to have endorsements. Williamson said it would be too difficult to attract top-flight talent to Bristol if they banned those deals. I understand that distinction. I don’t like it, but I don’t have a big problem with it.

In essence, ESPN is attempting to "regain control of its endorsements" in a time when current talent like Scott Van Pelt (Titleist), Chris Berman (Applebee's) and Erin Andrews (Reebok) have long-standing endorsement contracts outside of the scope of their employer. 

This turn of events brings a few past moments of suspected "conflicts of interest" that were seen on-air and behind the scenes at a few golf broadcasts as well.  Remember when CBS Sports' Jim Nance and Jack Nicklaus publicly disagreed on-air about whether the golf ball should be "rolled back"?  Or how about the level of excitement that Cobra Golf-sponsored David Feherty exuded when fellow Cobra mate JB Holmes won his first tournament?