Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

Is ESPN Violating Federal Ad Laws With Tweets?

By now we're pretty used to seeing ESPN reporters and personalities in commercials. John Buccigross and Stan Verrett shilled for Scion. Monday Night Football's Jon Gruden has hawked Hooters wings. And there's always the synergistic joy of SportsCenter movie tie-ins.

But what about when Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter took to Twitter to espouse their love of Domino's pizza? Well, that might have run afoul of Federal Trade Commission guidelines on deceptive advertising.

New Years Eve Means New Ads

As you can see from the tweets, and as Deadspin and The Wall Street Journal pointed out, there's nothing in the tweets themselves to indicate that they were advertisements for Domino's. Just a couple of guys, home on New Year's Eve, espousing their love of good college football and bad cardboard pizza.

ESPN told Deadspin the tweets were part of an ad buy, which is a problem, since the FTC's rules on Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising require all sponsored tweets to contain some form of disclosure to "inform consumers that the message is an advertisement." This requirement can easily be met with a notion like #ad or #spon, either of which were, and still are, lacking from Mortensen and Schefter's tweets.

All a Mistake

ESPN assured Deadspin that "all a mistake and that future tweets associated with Domino's ad buy with the network will be compliant with federal law." And Domino's told The Wall Street Journal, "Future tweets from Chris and Adam will [contain the hashtags #DominosPreGameHQ or #PreGameHQ"], or even the hashtag #ad. It was a mistake and we've made sure it won't happen again."

The FTC's guidelines note that "[m]isleading a significant minority of reasonable consumers is
a violation of the FTC Act," and whether the FTC pursues the issue with ESPN remains to be seen. What is certain is that both ESPN and its employees will seek to monetize their popularity with ever more integrated and seemingly casual advertisements. Consumers just have to keep their eye out for them.

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