Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

ESPN Says It Is, Isn't Actually Distancing Itself From DraftKings

Today’s episode of Outside The Lines featured a lot of discussion on the insider information scandal that has struck the world of daily fantasy sites. Before delving into that discussion, host Bob Ley mentioned that ESPN will no longer be featuring “sponsored elements” related to DraftKings in its original programming, although the network will continue running standard advertisements for the company. But after pressing ESPN PR a bit, Ley’s announcement doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal as it first appeared.


Here is a list of questions our own Kevin Draper sent to ESPN’s PR people after OTL aired:

Is ESPN’s decision to remove sponsored elements of DFS from its programming temporary or permanent?

Did ESPN discuss the decision to remove this sponsored programming with DraftKings before doing so?

Does ESPN removing sponsored elements of DFS from its programming violate its contract with DraftKings?

Does ESPN have to pay DraftKings back or modify its contract with DraftKings in some other way in light of removing sponsored elements of DFS from its programming?

Is Matthew Berry still allowed to endorse DraftKings, and will be continue to plug the company in his columns?

ESPN’s response:

Yes we pulled billboards and sponsorship in news programming today.

It is a standard procedure for us pull these kind of sponsorships and integrations when we are covering breaking news. We look to avoid any suggestion of influence on our coverage.

That was a confusing response, so we asked for further clarification:

Could you clarify this statement, because I don’t quite understand it. Do you mean you pulled billboards and sponsored segments today and for the future, or they are just pulled today and will return tomorrow? Also, are you saying that these things are only pulled when daily fantasy issues are being covered as news items, but will not be pulled when other types of breaking news is being covered?

I swear I’m not trying to break your balls or gotcha you here, I just don’t understand what this statement is saying.


To which we got this response:

They have been pulled today and will be evaluated day to day.

And yes, to clarify, it is when the breaking news pertains to the advertising/advertisers.


One last try:

Can you tell me any of the criteria as to why you would reinstate them or not?


Not commenting further. Thanks Kevin.

“Evaluated day to day” is far from definite, and is exactly the kind of standard that would allow ESPN to jump right back into bed with DraftKings as soon as this story blows over.


It’s important to remember just how much money is on the line for ESPN here. In June, the network signed an exclusive advertising deal with DraftKings, one that promised to “integrate the company directly into ESPN programming.” So far, that deal has manifested itself in an endless deluge of SportsCenter segments in which NFL and fantasy football experts take a break from tweeting about DraftKings to dole out advice on how to play DraftKings. Meanwhile, ESPN’s head fantasy writer has willingly transformed himself into a DraftKings shill whose opinions on whether DraftKings is credible and trustworthy are literally bought and paid for.

It undoubtedly cost DraftKings a great deal of money to become such a ubiquitous presence within ESPN’s programming, so distancing itself from the company is not a decision that ESPN would be able to make lightly or cheaply. But by letting Bob Ley go on TV and make his announcement today and then refusing to give us a straight answer, ESPN gets the best of both worlds. It can look principled and high-minded in public for seemingly casting its deal with DraftKings aside, all while still very much keeping that deal (and the money it brings in) intact behind the scenes.