Bloomberg has a story out today detailing ESPN’s desire to do what every sports media company on the face of the planet is currently doing: Cozy up to the nascent legal sports gambling industry in order to siphon off huge chunks of revenue produced by the ever-increasing number of schmucks placing and losing bets from their living rooms. One specific bit from Bloomberg’s story, regarding how ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter fits into this plan, stuck out.
At least one of ESPN’s most high-profile employees is interested in gambling, too. Adam Schefter, a prominent on-air analyst designated by the network as an “NFL Insider,” recently invested in Boom Entertainment, a maker of sports and casino gambling apps that is also developing what it describes as “real money gaming products.” One of Schefter’s co-investors in Boom is Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots football team and other sports ventures. Current and former gambling, sports and broadcast executives and companies are also investors.Bloomberg
The author of the Bloomberg story, Timothy O’Brien, writes that he reached out to ESPN about whether the company had an official conflict-of-interest policy regarding employee investments, but that the company declined to answer his question.
This is a mess. Not only is Schefter—who constantly reports the sorts of injury and roster scoops that move betting lines—now financially entangled with a sports betting company, he is also in business with one of the most powerful owners in the league he covers. You could spend hours trying to come up with another single investment that would saddle Schefter with more conflicts of interest than this one does, and fail.
It’s been a long time since anyone has much cared about journalists selling out or getting themselves into ethically dicey situations in the industries they cover, so it’s unlikely that much of a controversy will be kicked up here. If ESPN were a better company than it is, Schefter would be in a lot of trouble right now, and probably forced to divest from any sports gambling companies in order to keep his job. But ethical compromise is part of the foundation that ESPN was built upon, and the tension that once existed between ESPN’s journalistic ambitions and its broadcast partnerships with multiple sports leagues has mostly subsided. That’s down to the fact that ESPN just doesn’t employ nearly as many journalists as it used to, let alone the kind who could be counted on to provide consistently interrogative or antagonistic coverage of any of the company’s business partners.
None of which means that Schefter should receive a pass for getting into the gambling business with Bob Kraft, thus completing his sublimation into the sports entertainment industry. He’s not a journalist or reporter anymore, not really. He’s a waiver wire.
If ESPN wants to continue moving its aims away from journalism and toward becoming a more ubiquitous sports broadcaster and hand-puppet for the gambling industry—and no-commenting it when people ask Hey, what the hell?—nobody can really stop it. But that doesn’t mean that the actual journalists who still work for ESPN, particularly those with the highest profiles, need to merrily follow the company’s lead. Nobody likes the fact that Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, but the paper still employs plenty of reporters who manage to provide critical coverage of both Amazon and the broader tech industry, because that is the kind of work those journalists choose to do. Adam Schefter seems to have made another choice.