Pilot Flying J retaliates against ESPN over story of Browns dysfunction

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When a sports team is on the wrong end of an in-depth report characterizing management as dysfunctional and inept, it can do one of two things. It can mobilize its P.R. professionals to tap into local and national media contacts in an effort to push back against all or part of the story. Or it can retaliate economically.

The owners of the Cleveland Browns have opted for the latter.

Michael Smith of SportsBusiness Journal reports that Pilot Flying J, the company owned and operated by the Haslam family, has taken steps to end prematurely an advertising deal with ESPN in retaliation for Seth Wickersham’s in-depth story regarding dysfunction and disharmony of the Browns under the leadership of co-owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam.

Per the report, Pilot Flying J and ESPN are negotiating a termination of the contract, which is believed to be worth low-to-mid seven figures per year and which has two years left on its four-year duration.

The fact that Pilot Flying J would cancel the deal over ESPN’s treatment of the Browns suggests that Pilot Flying J expected positive (or at least neutral) treatment of the NFL franchise in exchange for the advertising relationship. ESPN deserves credit for not playing that game.

Among other things, Wickersham’s story cited unnamed sources, who claimed that Dee Haslam at one point said, “We just don’t know what we are doing” and “[I]f we’d known how hard it would be, we never would have bought the team.”

The team denied that Dee Haslam ever said this. And the team apparently didn’t appreciate the ESPN published the quotes and other comments regarding the management of the franchise since the Haslams purchased it in 2012.

86 responses to “Pilot Flying J retaliates against ESPN over story of Browns dysfunction

  1. I would pull the advertising too. ESPN should have just not run the story out of respect for a business partner. Besides, truth has never been a high priority for ESPN.

  2. It must hurt deeply that this same team and it’s ownership have turned the franchise around big time. Why not re-run this in December and comment then? That is, re-run with no editing!

  3. It’s in vogue these days for known fraudsters (like the Haslams…or the president) to try and “take their ball and go home” when faced with anything less than glowing and complimentary press coverage.

  4. The News Media now creates News, rather than reporting it!!!! ESPN doesn’t need to create negative stories. The Brown’s have done that on their own. John Dorsey is here to change the narrative!

  5. “ESPN deserves credit for not playing that game.”
    I know it happens, but writing biased stories protecting your advertisers is pretty unethical. I don’t think we need to give credit to a company every time the don’t go the unethical route.

  6. Unless ESPN was intentionally trying to terminate its business contract relationship with the Browns, the unnessarily personal attack on the Haslams demonstrated poor judgment by ESPN management. The story seethed a vendetta tone, as if the Haslams had personally offended the writers.

  7. It could also mean that the Haslams believe this article was another in a series of questionably sourced pieces by Wickersham that were more interested in advancing a narrative than accurately reporting a story.

  8. Wickersham must have a thing for dysfunction. Too bad he can’t do a report on his own employer, which is circling the drain.

  9. I would pull my advertising as well. And since the story was written on accounts from “unnamed sources” (which typically are Wickersham’s only sources) I wouldn’t even bother to comment or reply. We know the story about the Patriot’s turned out to be fiction, I would suspect most of this one is fiction too.

  10. The Browns *had* been dysfunctional. It looks like they have drafted well the last couple of years and they have presented an entertaining and functional football team. This is a change. Credit where credit is do. They still have some head cases, but …

  11. Is it true that the Haslams walk around the executive office in bare feet and overalls? Asking for a friend.

  12. “ESPN should have just not run the story out of respect for a business partner.” That – is a slippery slope that ends with reporting becoming political advertising.

  13. Media is the single largest issue in our entire country. They have been trying to make stories for years, rather than just report facts. Problem is, over 50% of todays Americans need their input to be able to form their own position on anything

  14. “I would pull the advertising too. ESPN should have just not run the story out of respect for a business partner. ”
    _________________

    You really want to see it where media would NEVER run anything negative about an advertiser? By that logic the Kareem Hunt assault would have been ignored because the NFL advertises.

  15. Why would Flying J give money to a company that is bashing them? It’s not a matter or retaliation, its a matter of common sense.

  16. Truth be truth……we are a deteriorating society, and ESPN is one of the long list of Liberalized Media outlets that makes their living by ” brainwashing” their market into believing whatever it is they need to sell everyday

  17. ESPN has a credibility problem. There are few people left that believe the anonymous sources from the MSM.

  18. Yes, ESPN – that paragon of journalistic integrity. Haslam is a sleezeball running a dysfunctional team forever. ESPN has been stilting its coverage to kiss up to the NFL which perennially plays hardball with anyone that says something even mildly critical. So Haslam is just mimicking it’s parent and ESPN for the moment seems to be doing its job.

  19. dl101693 says:
    February 13, 2019 at 2:17 pm
    Media is the single largest issue in our entire country. They have been trying to make stories for years, rather than just report facts. Problem is, over 50% of todays Americans need their input to be able to form their own position on anything
    ——————————————
    No. The biggest issue in our country are people who cannot think for themselves, cannot comprehend what they read, and dont understand the importance of media when it comes to holding our elected leaders accountable….

  20. “It can mobilize its P.R. professionals to tap into local and national media contacts in an effort to push back against all or part of the story.”
    ========================

    Please show me how this has ever been an EFFECTIVE strategy. The Browns organization could publish a thousand statements from past & current employees denying everything in ESPN’s narrative – it won’t change anything or make it whole again.

  21. The agreement between Flying J and ESPN ran for two years prior to this, despite plenty of negative press about the Browns appearing on all ESPN platforms. If Flying J cared about negative press, they would have cancelled the deal a long time ago.

    They didn’t appreciate being singled out for such an embarrassing piece and decided they no longer wanted to be affiliated with a company that would put it out.

    Don’t over think it.

  22. Jimmy Haslam says Pilot Flying J employees ran a gas rebate scam on truckers and trucking companies right under his nose with out his knowledge too. He’s may be going to jail for that one. His own meddling messed up the Browns as well. I wish he would sell our team before he goes away.

  23. I don’t blame them from pulling the ad…that’s what happens when a business doesn’t like the partnership. I don’t blame ESPN for running the article. They knew what they were doing and are apparently ready to live with it. This is how it all works.

  24. Remember the time Wickersham had that article about how everyone on the Patriots hated each other and the dynasty was crashing from the sky?

    Lmao. Just….lmao.

  25. @vikings1234 says:
    February 13, 2019 at 2:02 pm
    I would pull my advertising as well. And since the story was written on accounts from “unnamed sources” (which typically are Wickersham’s only sources) I wouldn’t even bother to comment or reply. We know the story about the Patriot’s turned out to be fiction, I would suspect most of this one is fiction too.

    ——

    WickerSNOT’s “unnamed sources” are the voices in his head or his Magic 8 Ball. Or perhaps it’s his Alexa or Siria? Sad how low journalism has sunk that mediots like him are considered “journalists” to begin with.

  26. ESPN deserves zero credit for anything other than flushing its own brand down the toilet. Their focus on political issues and social/racial justice combined with terrible programming has destroyed their brand. MNF is terrible. I don’t watch anything else, almost ever. There was a time where I could put ESPN on all day. Not anymore.

  27. Most of the stuff in the ESPN article was already known to people who follow the Browns closely. Hating on the Browns is getting old and very boring. ESPN is the dysfunctional enterprise whose value to investors (Disney) is deteriorating.

  28. This is why there should be a separation between journalism and broadcast partnerships. Things get messy.
    For as much complete garbage they put on the air, ESPN has done some great work in sports journalism over the years. But the business relationships make it tough to really know what’s news and what’s essentially “sponsored content”.

  29. Anybody that has ever been to college knows that if you cited an “unknown source” or the “person wants to remain confidential because of their inside information” for your term paper you would get an F. Why do “journalist” get a free pass. If the article uses unknown sources then it is for amusement only and really does not mean anything factual. News sources or journalist that rely a lot on unknown sources are creating click bait to drive revenue.

  30. The purpose of publishing that story was to make Cleveland look bad. It had no other purpose. It was mostly anonymous and unqualified quotes. It’s useless. That is a far cry from what I would consider sports journalism.

  31. I am no defender of Haslem, but I want to see Wickhersham’s college degree. His lack of primary, properly cited sources means his work is fraudulent.

    There may may be some half truths or whatnot, but it’s really garbage. Pats fans could easily debunk 75% of what he wrote about NE’s supposed “dysfunction”.

    Wickersham is a sham and he works for ESPN. Period.

  32. This is the best way to deal with so-called “news” organizations which become political outlets as ESPN has. And, as to Wickersham, using unsourced anonymous quotes is tantamount to journalistic malfeasance. I am not a particular fan of Jimmy Haslam, but on this one, he’s absolutely right to pull the plug on such unprofessional activity.

  33. Anyone who believes any of the nonsense Wickersham spreads is s fool, guy is the worst kind of hack. The epitome of modern journalism.

  34. If i was advertising with someone – and they used unnamed sourced to slam my business – OVIOUSLY i would terminate my advertising agreement as well.

    Who wouldn’t????

  35. They name yet another new head coach, sign a woman beater and now this story………not even March yet but its shaping up to be another Browns championship off season.

  36. Really what is ESPN/Wickersham’s end game? Spare me the journalistic integrity stuff. I don’t understand the need to constantly look for the opportunity to tear down any franchise the way Wickersham does. Who cares? For all intents and purposes it’s Haslam’s company to run the way he sees fit. It is not a publicly held company and they have zero impact on the day to day lives of Americans.

  37. I’m becoming more of Browns’ fan every day. Don’t me get wrong, I’m a huge fan of ESPN. Been watching since day one. I’m a sports fan and they were the first to do 24 hour sports. My dream. But in this particular case, I’m taking the Browns’ side. I’m not a big fan of tabloid journalism with unnamed sources, and that gotcha mentality. I’m more of a fan of what’s going on between the lines. I’m also proud of the way they handled the Kareem Hunt deal, and how they decided to give the man a second chance. Besides, very few owners know what the heck they’re doing. Otherwise, Belichick wouldn’t be winning every super bowl.

  38. “duane0621 says:
    February 13, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    If i was advertising with someone – and they used unnamed sourced to slam my business – OVIOUSLY i would terminate my advertising agreement as well.

    Who wouldn’t????”

    * * * * *

    ESPN said nothing about Pilot Flying J, which is a closely held corporation. They wrote an article about the Browns, which is owned by the CEO of Pilot Flying J.

    If I am a shareholder of Pilot Flying J’s owner, Pilot Corp, another closely held corporation, then I would need to know that there was a damn good reason the company I owned shares in made a marketing decision because of bad publicity suffered by an entirely unrelated company, which is not even in the same industry, and which is not owned by Pilot!

  39. Browns might start a trend. Imagine teams not enjoying Inspector Gadget investigations being conducted on them by the 4 letter and deciding that they no longer need to give them money for promotion. May be a boon for NBC. ESPN has moved far beyond breaking sports news and scores, they “investigate” with 30 unnamed sources and drag a guy, gal or organization in the mud, but never retract whatever false story produced. Haslam seems like the guy who would investigate a reporter, you know, dig up stuff in their personal lives and put it out there. Best leave the guy be.

  40. vikings1234 says:
    February 13, 2019 at 2:02 pm
    I would pull my advertising as well. And since the story was written on accounts from “unnamed sources” (which typically are Wickersham’s only sources)…
    =======================

    It’s borderline miraculous that Wickersham never encounters an anonymous source who says something counter to the narrative he’s pushing. All those anonymous sources always agree with the premise of his stories. It’s amazing.

  41. Wait – retaliates? Or is it that they pay for advertisement and don’t appreciate the way the story was handled. They got slammed in a report on a network they employ for advertisement. Not to mention a network that is slowly going to crap. I would cut my relationship with the social justice sports network too.

  42. If I am a source, I will put my name to it…if I have a gripe, it won’t be anonymous…if I was a journalist, sources would know they would have a name attached to thw source before they became the source..if you can’t do that, then maybe you need to go buy a ‘set’

  43. ESPN is a clown show I have not watched in over 6 years (Except a Pats MNF game each year). But The Haslam family and their flying J company are a bunch of crooks. So who do you root for, crooks or clowns???

  44. ESPN has a duty to mitigate its damages from Flying J, which unless ESPN has 30 second slots of black screen due to not finding a replacement for Flying J, its damages should be relatively small. If they cannot sell the advertising for the same price as Flying J agreed to pay, that would make ESPN look even worse. “Negotiating an exit” just means both sides are willing to come up with a number and tear up the deal. Otherwise, ESPN would have to track its damages for the next two years and then sue Flying J.

  45. kws001 says:
    February 13, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    So can the ESPN sue Flying J for slander after they probably slandered Flying J??
    =================================================================================

    It’s not “slander” if it’s true.

  46. I dont think ESPN deserves any credit Florio. They are nothing without the NFL. They better start treating them like a partner.

  47. To everyone complaining about anonymous sources….you realize that is often how the best investigative journalism is done, right? Just because someone doesn’t want to get fired or retaliated against for blowing the whistle, doesn’t mean their story isn’t credible.

    Woodward and Bernstein had Deep Throat for the Watergate story; no one (with any brains) is questioning that validity.

    There are real risks associated with sharing the truth, and typically the worse the truth, the bigger the risks. It’s why journalists are protected by law from revealing their sources as part of preserving a free and independent press.

    It’s up to the journalist to verify accounts, and his/her editor to make sure said journalist is doing so.

    There’s a problem in this country with certain segments not wanting to believe the media because it’s not what they want to hear. Certain political leaders take advantage of this and try to stoke the flames of disbelief with terms like fake news.

    There was a time in this country when news people like Cronkite reported the evening news and even if people didn’t like it, they believed it. Now, for some, it’s turned into reading/watching only a very narrow segment that fits beliefs, even if biased or incorrect. Removal of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine was one of the worst things done to our democracy.

  48. harril3 says:
    February 14, 2019 at 4:14 am
    To everyone complaining about anonymous sources….you realize that is often how the best investigative journalism is done, right? Just because someone doesn’t want to get fired or retaliated against for blowing the whistle, doesn’t mean their story isn’t credible.

    Woodward and Bernstein had Deep Throat for the Watergate story; no one (with any brains) is questioning that validity.

    There are real risks associated with sharing the truth, and typically the worse the truth, the bigger the risks. It’s why journalists are protected by law from revealing their sources as part of preserving a free and independent press.

    It’s up to the journalist to verify accounts, and his/her editor to make sure said journalist is doing so.

    There’s a problem in this country with certain segments not wanting to believe the media because it’s not what they want to hear. Certain political leaders take advantage of this and try to stoke the flames of disbelief with terms like fake news.

    There was a time in this country when news people like Cronkite reported the evening news and even if people didn’t like it, they believed it. Now, for some, it’s turned into reading/watching only a very narrow segment that fits beliefs, even if biased or incorrect. Removal of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine was one of the worst things done to our democracy.

    ————————-
    You simply cannot compare todays media to guys like Cronkite. Nor can you compare the investigative work of Woodward and Bernstein who verified everything multiple ways before running with it to todays practice of guys publishing anything they might have heard from any uncorraborated source or even the not that uncommon practice of just making up whatever and throwing out “unnamed sources” as a form of cover. This practice is why there are so many cases of news stories then turning out to be false after some reporter claimed unnamed sources which could be anything from casper the freindly ghost to a guy standing behind them in the checkout line. And as far as journalists with a history Wickersham and ESPN are right up on that list. Wickersham in particular I have come to know that things I read from him were never said by anyone anywhere they turned out so untrue. If the media wants people to believe them, wants people to stop rolling their eyes when they hear that ‘Unnamed sources’ then they need to get back to those words meaning something. Because these days they dont. Its certainly not all reporters, we readers all know that. But with the advent of internet media and the volume it brings its been enough of those type reporters to tarnish the reputation of all of them.

  49. This is a valid point. Unfortunately most news sources now have been caught out not vetting stories and/or sources, even if they remain anonymous.

    There used to be integrity within the media. Wickersham and his ilk have destroyed all trust by continually writing unsubstatiated myths, that turn out 100% wrong, in the ever increasing need for “clicks”.

    _______________________________________

    harril3 says:
    February 14, 2019 at 4:14 am
    To everyone complaining about anonymous sources….you realize that is often how the best investigative journalism is done, right?

  50. ESPN can’t continue to lose money. They are already cutting corners on their NFL coverage, while beefing up the nba side of things.

    There TV contracts are under water, and with people cutting the cord, they might be stuck without NFL coverage in the near future.

  51. I’m surprised at how many people are taking the low road here. Responsible journalism means reporting carefully vetted-out information. When that in formation is in conflict with commercial interests, an editor and publisher are supposed to follow ethical guidelines, as a free press is essential to a democracy. Sure, it’s only ESPN, which is limited to sports, and yes, ESPN has released poorly vetted stories on things like deflated footballs, but every news source has from time to time screwed up.

    This is rare for ESPN. They’ve whiffed badly in the past, by cowering and censuring a story about LeBron James, and dismissing the journalist for doing his job. This is the first time that I can ever recall that they’ve taken the high road, for which they should be commended.

  52. was the “expose” written by the same espn clown who revealed the imminent collapse of the dysfunctional patriots a year and two super bowls ago?

  53. The people here saying we should just buy ESPNs story at face value because ‘unnamed sources’ has been in the past valud journalism are ridiculous. First off, legitimate reporters first use multiple sources to corraborate/verify information from unnamed sources before they print it. They dont just run and print something ‘some guy said’ because they think it would get clicks.

    Second of all, ESPN and Wickersham in particular have a track recird of ‘unnamed sources’ based reporting that later proved to be utter bull. I even see one poster admitting the history of publishing nonsense but this time we have to give them credit because its true? Who says its true? How can that be verified? Because an unnamed source wouldnt say something unless its true? How about if we consider that their track record if printing bull makes it a very real possibility this is just more bull.

    Third, the only basis for believing this story would be for Browns hating. I see all those guys saying those that refuse to believe it is because they dont want to? Well the only reason for believing is because those guys do want to. ‘Want to’ is the only reason for anything here.

    I think if you are going to publish something that accuses someone you have to quantify it. If an unnamed source gives a tip use it as starting point to go dig up more about it (you know, like investifative journalism) until you have something solid to back it (like Woodward and Bernstein did, I see them referenced above). Dont just publish the dirt on the say so of some person unwilling to stand behind what they told you.

    If Haslett feels ESPN printed something about him or his organization that is very much untrue thats his right to not like it. This is not just being mad because one didnt get a fluff piece or something got exposed. He is saying he feels ESPN lied about him. So I get it if he decides he doesnt want to continue to benefit someone he believes lied about him.

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