So I get home, and there is a piece of junk mail in my box. I almost threw it away; then I decided to post about it. First, a little background…
I didn’t really follow the controversy surrounding the Jenn Brown/Icehouse story from two weeks ago, mainly because the story ended almost before it started.
Jenn Brown is, from what I can tell, being positioned by ESPN to become “Erin Andrews Jr.”, including inheriting Andrews’ sideline reporter gig on ESPN Thursday night college football. Like Andrews, she is blond, and a graduate of Florida. (She is also three years younger than Andrews.)
All that is well and good, but when it was announced that she had agreed (with ESPN’s consent) to become the national spokesperson for Icehouse beer (a brand sold by MillerCoors), the endorsement deal drew some criticism in various corners of the media world.
ESPN subsequently changed its collective mind, and told MillerCoors that Brown would not be available to be its Icehouse spokesperson.
I thought that was the right call, but I wondered a little about where ESPN drew the line when it came to endorsement deals. After all, Dan Patrick promoted Coors beer when he worked for the network (and later said it was a mistake).
More recently, Brown’s role model, Andrews, has appeared in an ad campaign for Sony, and Chris Berman has shilled as only he can for Applebee’s. Of course, it is one thing to endorse television sets and restaurants, and another to endorse an alcoholic beverage, particularly when much of your work revolves around sporting events played and attended by people under the age of 21.
However, ESPN’s line of demarcation isn’t nearly as clear-cut as that, as pointed out by at least one observer, who notes the network has no problem with Lee Corso and Dick Vitale appearing in commercials for Hooters.
Tangent: I own a book, College Sports Inc., written about 20 years ago by Murray Sperber, the former Indiana University professor and mondo critic of college sports. It is as shrill (and comprehensive) an indictment of the amateur sports scene as you could imagine. Sperber is at his most bilious near the end of a chapter titled “Greed City”:
“…a former Indiana University football coach, Lee Corso, set the standard for crassness when he shilled for the white minority South African government’s Krugerrands [on Corso’s weekly coach’s TV show] while at IU.”
I don’t have anything against Corso, who has been a mainstay at ESPN for many years, although I admit the ads for Hooters make me cringe. However, over the years I’ve often thought about that line in Sperber’s book when Corso appeared on TV.
I think that points up the danger of endorsements, especially potentially controversial ones. Corso could escape being remembered for that politically incorrect pitch because no one outside the state watched his show. (Given his record at IU, it’s possible not many people in the state watched the show.) However, Jenn Brown endorsing a beer company while working for the 5000-lb. gorilla of sports media in this country — well, that’s a different story.
You’re probably starting to wonder what I got in the mail. Well, it was a promotional magazine for an online betting service. I’m not sure how I got on the company’s mailing list, as I don’t gamble on sports, but no matter. I was about to toss it out when I noticed that the cover featured former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, wearing a hat with the logo of the company.
Inside the front cover is a blurb stating that the service “offers free games picks and previews from Tim Brown, Gary Payton and the rest…”. It also suggests the reader needs to join Brown and Payton at the website on an “exclusive betting video page.”
In the middle of the booklet is another photo of Brown, holding a football, with another blurb referencing him.
As it happens, Brown is currently employed by ESPN. As stated in a recent media release by the network:
ESPN’s 2010 college football coverage will feature a deep lineup of knowledgeable and experienced game and studio commentators in familiar and new roles, including the addition of Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown as an analyst for ESPN 3D games…
…Brown – a former Notre Dame wide receiver and 16-year NFL veteran — will also provide studio analysis on College Football Live, ESPNEWS, SportsCenter, various ESPN Radio programs and additional ESPN platforms.
I perused the betting service’s website, mainly to see if Brown was involved in picking college games, as opposed to just the NFL. I didn’t see any current reference to him analyzing college games, although he does seem to have analyzed college football games last year for the service. I did see an older video showing Brown (wearing a burnt-orange Sean John sweater and employing the key phrase “butt-whoopin'” amid a host of cliches) discussing the upcoming (at that time) BCS title game between Alabama and Texas.
Of course, I didn’t have access to the “exclusive betting video page”, so he may be talking about Alabama-Penn State this week, or he may be sticking to the NFL. I don’t know.
Again, I don’t have anything against Tim Brown, who for all I know is a nice guy making a living, as is his right. It just strikes me as odd that ESPN doesn’t appear to have any problem with one of its college football analysts moonlighting as a spokesperson/employee for online gambling, while putting the kibosh on someone trying to hawk beer.
In one of the links above, it is pointed out that “colleges and universities have always been sensitive to criticism that it does not condone alcohol abuse but is more than happy to take the money from beer advertising.” Isn’t gambling on sports at least as big a concern on college campuses these days?
I will say that you could distinguish between the ESPN roles for Tim Brown (a game/studio analyst) and Jenn Brown (a reporter) in trying to draw a line. That’s a tough argument to make, though.
It could be that I’m totally wrong about this, but I don’t really see the difference, at least from ESPN’s point of view, between these two endorsement deals — one still in progress, and one cut off at the pass. Then again, I’m still trying to figure out why ESPN would run infomercials featuring one of its former ad spokesmen, who has been dead for over a year.
At least no one is endorsing Berman’s moustache.