Friday, February 18, 2011

Are sports hosts reporters?

From TVWatch:

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?