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.