Williamson on Endorsement Policy

Editor’s Note: Norby Williamson, ESPN Executive Vice President, Production, announces the company’s new endorsement guidelines.

After some recent fair public criticism focused on select ESPN commentators and their endorsement relationships, we determined to closely examine all aspects of our policies in this area. The reality is we are creating policies applicable to approximately 1,000 ESPN commentators, such as on-air TV and radio hosts, play-by-play commentators, analysts, reporters and columnists. The result is these updated guidelines, available by clicking here, that are being distributed today to ESPN commentators and senior content staff.

ESPN’s relationship with sports fans is critical and this document focuses on protecting the integrity of that relationship. We are asking all recipients to recognize that this document will never be a finished work. The world will evolve and these guidelines will have to evolve with it.

As you would expect, we will bring careful consideration to each situation presented and we recognize that clearly there will be exceptions. In fact, you will note one passage of the guidelines deals with the inherent differences between former coaches, players and administrators turned analysts and other commentators.

The guidelines address situations in which our people would be compensated by a third party to endorse or promote a product or service through commercials, personal appearances or in other ways. The document goes on to outline some areas that may be particularly problematic, especially from a perception standpoint.

Examples include athletic equipment, apparel or footwear companies, most notably the ones that supply the teams and athletes regularly covered by ESPN. As the guidelines emphasize, part of any commentator’s ability to work at ESPN comes with the requirement for them to disclose and obtain approval of third-party endorsement opportunities.

Beginning Monday, we plan to publicly list any relevant, approved endorsements involving ESPN commentators on ESPN.com. We are more committed than ever to our mission of serving sports fans and we feel the steps we are taking today will help us better meet that goal.

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