A well-known television sports broadcaster -- you would recognize his face if you saw him on the street -- is explaining how lucrative endorsing a product can be for a person in his position. For example, what can he make endorsing a national brand such as restaurant chain? "Low six figures, for sure," said the broadcaster.
The riches can become even greater if one becomes something of a brand ambassador. That would entail attending corporate outings or advertiser-related events. The payday for that? "It totally depends on the person, but high six figures certainly," our broadcaster said.
From Depends (Tony Siragusa) to ExtenZe (Jimmy Johnson), plenty of sports media figures are endorsing products these days. The roster includes (but is not limited to) talent such as Erin Andrews (TrueBiotics), Chris Berman (Applebee's), Bill Cowher (Time Warner Cable, among others), Cris Collinsworth (Western & Southern), Jay Glazer (Subway), Kirk Herbstreit (Allstate and Kellogg's among others), Jim Nantz (Papa John's and Sony among others) and Dick Vitale (Hooters, Wendy's among others). ESPN, given its heft, has the most staffers with endorsements, and while this list is incomplete and hasn't been updated since February, it does give offer some scale regarding who is pushing product in Bristol.
SI.com spoke with network executives, broadcasters, and agents over the past three weeks to gain insight into which on-air talent are allowed to endorse products and why. Executives from each network interviewed (CBS Sports, ESPN, Fox Sports and NBC Sports) said they judged requests on a case-by-case basis, though Fox was far and away the most liberal when it came to green-lighting requests.
"People give us the heads up on what they have been offered and then there are a few of us who discuss whether it is reasonable and does not negatively affect the schedule for the on-air talent, or negatively affect the Fox Sports brand," said Fox Sports co-president Eric Shanks, who said he gets between 10 to 20 requests every year. "For the most part, we take a pretty liberal view because we like people to make a little extra scratch if they can."
"We basically do it on a case-by-case basis," said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus, who estimated that he is asked 25 times a year about endorsements and approves more than he turns down. "There is no real prohibition on them doing it since so many major talent are doing it now. They ask us our permission and tell us the type of commercial and what the product is. We make a decision based on that. Generally speaking, we try to be relatively liberal with the opportunities."
NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood mirrored McManus in saying that his network also made case-by-case decisions. "We look at what the opportunity might be and see how it fits in with where we are and where that talent is," Flood said. "If it is some product that we don't think is appropriate to be tied to our brand, we certainly would not okay the relationship. If it's a brothel in Nevada, I have a feeling that we would say that is not a good thing for anyone involved in our department to endorse."
ESPN executive vice president of production John Wildhack revealed that the company took a similar stance, evaluating each case individually, though the scale of his talent (more than 1,000 on-air broadcasters), the many relationships ESPN has with pro leagues and college conferences, and the network's journalistic ambitions make ESPN's decisions more challenging than the others.
"The policies are not only unfair, but a little sexist," said one ESPN on-air staffer when asked about endorsements. "It seems like the male talent is, for the most part, allowed to accept whatever endorsement they choose. How can Erin Andrews be castigated for her endorsements, but it's fine for Chris Berman and Mike Ditka and others to endorse whatever they want? There is also the division between former athletes and coaches and regular talent. We need a uniform policy that applies to everyone, not just some of us."
Asked how he would respond to the assertion that there is a different standard for ex-athletes and coaches versus other talent when it came to endorsements, Wildhack said, "There is some delineation between someone who is an analyst such as Kirk Herbstreit or Bob Knight and someone who is a SportsCenter anchor. Kirk and Bob are responsible for their commentary and thoughts on their individual sports but not necessarily reporting the news."
Flood, the NBC executive, also saw a difference. "I think analysts are clearly different and ex-athletes have a different way into the business so they are looked at differently versus pure reporters or play by play guys," Flood said.
Along the same terrain is whether something is lost journalistically when talent appears in the same ad with a current athlete or coach. How does McManus view Nantz appearing in Papa John's and Sony ads with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, given Nantz sometimes broadcasts Denver games? "We look at it carefully and if I thought that in any way it jeopardized his ability to be objective, I would not let him do it," McManus said. "But I have never seen any signs of that evidence of that... If I thought any of the commercials that our people are doing put them in a compromising position or put CBS in a compromising position, we would not let them do it."
A number of ESPN anchors have participated in the heavy product placement ads that run on SportsCenter. (One example is the recent Jaguar commercials fronted by ESPN's Stuart Scott. These usually run for a couple of weeks and the advertiser or a production company often ends up paying the broadcaster, though that is far less lucrative than individual campaigns. Staffers at different networks told me that they don't begrudge the money their colleagues receive unless it leads to favoritism from management or causes the talent doing the endorsements to act like entitled asses. Explained one ESPN on-air anchor: "There is such a small group that fishes in those waters that it's not even talked about around the water cooler."
Wildhack said he did not know how many endorsement opportunities had been rejected by ESPN management but he did say ESPN does not get a large number of requests. He said those who represent ESPN on-air talent know where management stands on things such as taste or tone. "They are not coming to us with things that are clearly off-brand," Wildhack said.
What about those in a clear news-gathering position at a network endorsing products? Should T.J. Quinn and Don Van Natta Jr. be encouraged to promote, say, Burger King Double Stacker meals? "Again, it's not something they have explored with us," Wildhack said. "We haven't pushed for it. If they came to us we would do as we do with anyone else, we would discuss accordingly."
"The only debate for some of us, and maybe it's a super-small minority, is how much journalistic credibility you sacrifice for the $$," said one former ESPN anchor, in an email, who still works in television. "But then one could argue, how much journalistic credibility do anchors have anyway? I'd like to think a lot, but others might credibly argue not much."
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. Before The Doctor, there was "The Claw" and "Black Moses." But no nickname stuck for Julius Erving until he declared at New York City's legendary Rucker Park playground that "Doctor" would do just fine.
One of the best parts of the "The Doctor," a 90-minute documentary on the life of Julius Erving which debuts Monday at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV, is that it provides basketball fans under 30 a visceral sense of just how transcendent Erving was as a player. Thanks to the great research and archives of NBA Entertainment, we get to see Erving dominating at Rucker Park playground and in the ABA before he finally landed with Philadelphia for the start of the 1976-77. There are also fantastic memories of Erving from a host of teammates and competitors such as Bill Walton, George Gervin, Magic Johnson, Pat Riley and Darryl Dawkins.
Why was this the right time for a documentary? "The asking from the league was genuine and I began to trust the things that were said," said Erving, who is also releasing an autobiography this year.
"His life story needed to be told," said Dion Cocoros, the senior vice president of original production for NBA Entertainment and a terrific filmmaker who was behind the NBA-based documentaries "Once Brothers" and "Dream Team." "I think people always heard about Julius as a player and now they have the opportunity to see how he changed the game."
The basketball part of this documentary is exceptional but the film stays far away from some of the controversial spots of Erving's life, including his relationship with the mother of former tennis player Alexandra Stevenson (Erving is her birth father) and some financial setbacks. To his credit, Erving addresses the very difficult subject of the 2000 death of his son, Cory.
Asked if there were areas that Erving would not talk about, Erving said, "I gave them carte blanche and it was really up to their judgment at the end of the day whether they would use things or not. I think I gave them three times the amount of interview that they used. They picked the best third and put it in context."
One of the film's strengths -- it is narrated by Chuck D of Public Enemy fame -- is Erving returning to his native Long Island to retrace his basketball steps, including stops at the home he grew up in and the Nassau Coliseum, where he starred in the ABA with the Nets. "[His childhood home] is a shelter for homeless men now," Cocoros said. "It's a very cool progression of what the house has turned into. We always knew we wanted to bring Julius back to his old stomping grounds: the park, his home and Nassau Coliseum."
It's solid work by NBA TV and the footage of Erving in his prime is extraordinary. If you are a basketball fan, the documentary is well worth your time.
1a. One of the fun things Erving talked about during his promotional tour last week was how from the time he retired in 1987, he has dunked the basketball at least once a year. Explained Erving: "I used to dunk a lot more but after about age 55 I said, 'I'm not really looking to play basketball. I don't mind going in the gym but I'd rather play golf.' But I would still go in once a year and just throw one down to see if I could still do it."
Erving said that the 2013 dunk has already happened. "I actually had a day [this year] when my buddy the professor, my business partner, my insurance man and I took my 11-year-old son and the five of us played against these hot-shot, high-flying eighth graders, which included my 14-year-old son and his friends. We beat them down. After that victory, I was feeling my Wheaties, so I went down and dunked three times. I said, 'Well, I've got my next three years covered'."
1b. Which current NBA player would Erving trust most taking the final shot in a close game? "Probably Stephen Curry," said Erving.
1c. Recommend this well-crafted review of the Erving doc from Andrew Unterberger of the Philadelphia-based The 700 Level.com website.
2. ENDORSEMENT EXTRAS: Wildhack offered some clarity on the subject of Stephen A. Smith, who has recently appeared in commercials hawking McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (in a spot that featured LeBron James) and the film Star Trek Into Darkness. Smith has been touted externally by ESPN as a journalist. "Stephen has many roles," Wildhack said. "Yes, he is a journalist. He is also a commentator and an observer of not only the NBA but of all sports. Looking at the spot, the conceit of the spot and the treatment of the spot, it did not compromise in any way his ability to do his job."
2a. One broadcaster who has benefited financially from shifting from ESPN to Fox is Erin Andrews, who is clearly interested in being a product endorser. But Shanks said that was not a selling point in negotiations as Fox attempted to woo Andrews from ESPN. "We didn't use that as a selling point but I think it was a known fact," he said. "There wasn't much discussion about it. Her representation -- [IMG's] Sandy Montag and Babette Perry -- know us really well so they probably knew the lay of the land. They have other clients with us and they knew what to tell her." Andrews politely declined comment last week when reached about this topic.
2b. McManus said CBS Sports normally looks at the script of spots involving talent before it airs. Fox's Shanks said he did not. Flood said it would depend on the product and Wildhack said the ESPN talent office or a senior-level person such as himself analyzes scripts before approval or rejection.
2c. Shanks said Fox Sports does not have a particular list of banned products regarding commercials.
McManus said there are products that would be off-limits to CBS Sports but he would not be specific. Wildhack said that he would reject "things that are not consistent with either the ESPN brand or their Disney brand."
2d. On the subject of political or religious advocacy, Wildhack said, "Our talent is not allowed to appear in political ads. That is something we would not allow."
2e. Regarding ESPN staffers putting their likenesses in a video game, Wildhack said: "I think you look at those on an individual basis. That's not necessarily a pure commercial opportunity because ultimately with the video game makers they are creating content. I think there is some distinction there."
2f. Shanks admitted that Fox Sports management does not pre-approve local ads that Fox Sports talent appears on. "They don't pop up on our radar," he said.
3. Soccer television viewers are notorious hard graders but beIN Sport was rightly excoriated for its shoddy broadcast Friday night of the U.S. win over Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier. (My colleague George Dohrmann summed up the majority opinion here, and the subpar performance prompted ESPN's Bob Ley, who has earned the credibility of soccer viewers with his work, to weigh in as well.) The broadcast had multiple production problems (bad microphones, cuts away from live action, brutal camera angles) and a junior varsity studio show. beIN wants to be a player in soccer and the more the sport can be seen in the States, the better for all fans. But if you are going to acquire a product a niche group feels passionate about, you have to perform much better than this.
3a. Sirius XM Radio will air live coverage of the exhibition soccer match between World Cup champion Spain and Ireland from Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. The coverage will air on SiriusXM FC, channel 94, the company's all-soccer channel.
4. ESPN is currently in the middle of negotiating a new contract with college basketball analyst Kara Lawson, one of the most talented analysts at the network. ESPN senior vice president and executive producer Mark Gross said that ESPN would like to increase the number -- and quality -- of men's games Lawson works in addition to her outstanding work in the studio on women's basketball. ESPN management has thrown a lot of money around for bloviating talent over the years so here's hoping it ponies up for someone who prepares for each assignment as if her job depended on it.
5. I wrote last week about Turner Sports hiring Keith Olbermann to be the host of its MLB postseason studio show. The network also announced it had reached a long-term extension with Ron Darling, who joined TBS as an MLB analyst in 2008. Darling, one of the best in his profession, was rumored to be a target of Fox to replace Tim McCarver but the broadcaster said neither he or his representatives negotiated with the home of Homer Simpson. "Ron has been a priority for us," said Turner Sports president David Levy. "He's been a special part of the Turner family and it was always our intention and direction to sign Ron as soon as possible. He has established himself as one of the preeminent baseball analysts in the game today.
6. The Stanley Cup Final television schedule is set: NBC will broadcast Games 1 (the series opens this Wednesday) and 4, and if necessary, Games 5-7. The NBC Sports Network will telecast Games 2 and 3, and will have pregame and postgame coverage each game night. The network said for the first time ever, the Stanley Cup Final will be streamed live through NBC Sports Live Extra, and every game viewed online will offer alternative camera angles. The game announcers are Mike Emrick (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (on-ice analyst).
6a. Always amusing to watch the sports networks spin ratings but thankfully we have Sports Media Watch and others to provide clarity. Here's SMW on ESPN/ABC's numbers from Game One of the NBA Finals and how Fox did on NASCAR this year.
7. Among the memorable sports pieces this week:
•Sensational work by ESPN.com senior writer Wright Thompson, who traveled through Italy to investigate racism in Italian soccer.
• A group of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism students profiled some of the 4,000 former NFL players who are suing the league for neglecting to tell them about the dangers of blows to the head and hiding evidence that linked head trauma with long-term brain damage. More stories were posted this week.
•Loved this feature by ESPN NBA insider Marc Stein on how sideline reporters (gingerly) approach Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
•SI Video debuted a live 30-minute daily show last week, hosted by Maggie Gray and featuring newsmakers and SI staffers. Check it out here.
Two non-sports piece of note:
•Texas Monthly editor Pamela Coloff has a follow up on her award-winning pieces on Michael Morton, a Texas man who spent almost 25 years wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of his wife:
•Washington Post writer Eli Saslow wrote a brilliant piece on mourning parents struggling after the shootings in Newtown, Ct.
8. A major behind-the-scenes move was announced last week as David Berson was named the president of CBS Sports. That promotion sets Berson up to be the successor to McManus, the current CBS Sports chairman and the top decision-maker at the sports division. Berson will be involved in all aspects of CBS Sports' day-to-day management and will also continue to lead CBS Sports Network, his current assignment. He joined CBS after 16 years at ESPN where he worked in programming and scheduling. "He has thorough knowledge of programming, business affairs, production and has a great relationship with our rightsholders," McManus told SI.com last week. "He is very well respected both internally and externally. He has all the qualifications I believe to run CBS Sports one day."
9. Stade de Roland Garros was the site of many tense moments last week but here's one that occurred off the court: Last Thursday, ESPN aired the Maria Sharapova-Victoria Azarenka quarterfinal match in its entirety on ESPN2. The match encountered rain delays and was still ongoing when NBC came on the air for its French Open coverage that day. Instead of filling the time with other programming as their contract allegedly demanded, NBC began airing the Sharapova-Azarenka match live, meaning two networks were airing the same match simultaneously in the Eastern United States. This bothered ESPN management significantly, according to a tennis industry source.
"We sublicensed that match exclusively from Tennis Channel, value our exclusivities and our relationships with both Tennis Channel and the French Tennis Federation, and aren't going to comment beyond that," said an ESPN spokesperson.
Reached on Sunday afternoon, an NBC Sports spokesperson said: "There was a miscommunication among the three networks involved, and it has since been discussed and resolved."
9a. As always, West Coast sports fans were furious that NBC opted to protect The Today Show over airing live coverage of the French Open men's semifinal. Tweeted San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Ann Killion: "NBC shouldn't have the rights to something they're not committed to showing."
10. What kind of week will Sergio Garcia have at this week's 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia? "A tough one," predicted ESPN golf analyst Paul Azinger. "A very long, tough week. I think if he really tries to be smart about his approach to this, he talks to the media right at the very beginning, he regrets what he said, and he just moves on and focuses on golf. You've got to have the skill to not allow yourself to get crushed over it."
10a. CBS Sports golf analyst and reporter Peter Kostis recently went public about his diagnosis and treatment for colon cancer. "I am currently home recovering from successful surgery for colon cancer," Kostis said in a statement. "It was detected early during a regular physical and colonoscopy. My great team of doctors in Phoenix will be putting me through preventative chemotherapy. Because of early detection the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent. I had zero symptoms or family history. I urge everyone, if you are over 50, get a regular colonoscopy exam whether you think you need one or not."
10b. NBC will air 17 hours of live U.S. Open golf tournament coverage from Thursday through Sunday.
10c. Sirius XM Mad Dog Radio host Adam Schein had a remarkable NBA guest list for his show last Thursday prior to Game One of the NBA Finals. The lineup: Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Willis Reed, Jerry West, James Worthy, Lenny Wilkins, Rick Barry, Clyde Drexler, Gail Goodrich, Dave Cowens, Rudy Tomjanovich, Robert Horry, Horace Grant and Chauncey Billups. Said West on Popovich: "I've never seen a better coach than Gregg Popovich in the NBA in my life. He does more with less than, I think, anyone I've ever seen."
10d. Good work by ESPN Pravda highlighting how ESPN investigative reporter T.J. Quinn continued to grind on his story about Major League Baseball seeking to suspend about 20 players connected to the Miami-area clinic Biogenesis of America while stationed in Tokyo.
10e. The Big Lead.com reported on some hires for the Fox Sports 1 daily afternoon talk show ("Rush Hour") hosted by Regis Philbin. Given the glut of afternoon talk, it's going to be a big struggle for FS1 to find an audience for this show.
10g. Rotoworld.com has expanded its Fantasy Sports coverage to include the English Premier League.
10h. Thanks to Keith Thibault and Ken Fang for inviting me on their weekly Sports Media Journal podcast.
10i. NBA TV analyst Kenny Smith on the Spurs: "The Spurs are a golf course. You have to play par, you can't play bogeys. Every day it is the same golf course."