Who says TV brands aren’t important anymore

Just a quick hit post today…

For those who think brands don’t matter on TV anymore, the recent debacle with ESPN and its Barstool Sports program is clear indication that brand does. I’m certainly not in the Barstool Sports demo, but from the little I know about it, it’s a head-scratcher as to how this was allowed to get past the brand gatekeeper at ESPN.

ESPN logo

ESPN’s mission is to serve all sports fans – male, female, or whatever demo you want to choose – whenever and wherever they want sports content. With a strong message of inclusiveness and gender equality, ESPN and its Disney parent seem to be the completely wrong place for this partnership. Even with a supposed firewall between the TV and the online content, working with a content partner that built its audience at least in part using “bro” culture (and the playing off of insensitivities that implies), who in reality wasn’t going to link one with the other?

The silver lining here is that ESPN’s brand is so well defined that the mismatch was immediately apparent, even with a 1AM time slot that presumably was thought to be a safe harbor for edgy content. Other, weaker TV/media brands could have put something like this on and no one would bat an eye – because they have no expectations of weak brands or for what they stand.

While ESPN does have to constantly reinvent its content to keep pace with the changing audience, it must do so within the elasticity of its brand. Pushing the brand is one thing, but push it too far and the pop will be heard a long way.


David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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