Browns owner pulls ESPN ads after story critical of team

Last month, ESPN published a story by reporter Seth Wickersham giving a look into the dysfunction of the Cleveland Browns franchise.

Titled “The Clash of the Cleveland Browns: How Hue Jackson, Jimmy Haslam and Baker Mayfield collided,” Wickersham painted a not-so-pretty picture of the hapless Browns, from owner Haslem’s grip on every detail of the franchise to his embarrassment at having to fire yet another coach, Jackson, in his relatively short tenure as owner, to Jackson’s command that Haslam “get the [expletive] out of my office” when Haslam fired him last October.

He may be looking inward after the story, but Haslam is also looking outward and exacting some measure of revenge.

Pilot Flying J pulling advertising

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who is also CEO of Pilot Flying J truck stops, ended an advertising agreement with ESPN after a story about the Browns’ dysfunction. (AP)

The business that made Haslam wealthy enough to own an NFL franchise is Pilot Flying J, a huge chain of truck stops and travel centers throughout the United States and Canada, and he’s still CEO of the company.

Sports Business Journal reported on Wednesday that Pilot Flying J has pulled its advertising and sponsorship agreement with ESPN two years into what was supposed to be a four-year deal, apparently in retaliation for Wickersham’s story.

The multi-platform deal included advertising during college football games, a sponsorship that made it the SEC’s official travel center, presenting sponsorship of the Saturday morning show “SEC Nation” three times per season (ESPN owns the SEC’s media and marketing rights), and agreements for ESPN talent Paul Finebaum and Laura Rutledge to endorse the company.

The deals were worth the low-to-mid seven figures annually, SBJ reported.

Haslam and his company, like the rest of us, can spend his money or not spend his money where he chooses. But journalism isn’t public relations; if Haslam wants a pretty picture painted of his team, he can pay people to do that.

Or run a better outfit and reporters won’t publish pieces you’re embarrassed by.

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