Jimmy Haslam Retaliates Against ESPN Browns Story, Pulls Pilot Flying J Sponsorship Worth Millions

Ryan Glasspiegel

Jimmy Haslam is retaliating against ESPN’s journalism arm, pulling a “low-to-mid seven figures annually” deal two years into a four-year contract, Sports Business Journal reports. The severing will also presumably affect deals with individual ESPN talents, including Paul Finebaum and Laura Rutledge.

ESPN’s Seth Wickersham published a story in January about chronic dysfunction in the Cleveland Browns organization, which Jimmy Haslam presides over.  The piece included numerous embarrassing tidbits, like the Browns accidentally broadcasting pornography onto their facility walls.

Haslam, the Browns owner, is also the CEO of Pilot Flying J, a gas station chain with 750 locations. In 2018, three of the company’s executives were sentenced to prison for their role in a fraudulent rebate scheme, in which they manually shortchanged high volume customers. Haslam denied knowledge of the scheme, which would have netted his company millions of dollars had it gone undiscovered.

Make no mistake about it, ESPN’s journalism is under assault. While they may be able to recoup some or all of this sponsorship loss by pitching Pilot Flying J competitors to fulfill the marketing spot that is being severed, this type of retaliation from Haslam is something that many professional sports owners could deploy as revenge against the network for aggressive (and accurate!) coverage.

ESPN and Pilot Flying J would not comment to SBJ.