Last month, ESPN published a detailed report critical of Jimmy Haslam's tenure as the Cleveland Browns' owner.
It appears the article didn't go unnoticed.
According to Sports Business Daily, Pilot Flying J has ended its extensive advertising and sponsorship agreement with ESPN just two years into what was a four-year deal. Haslam, whose father founded Pilot Flying J, still serves as the truck stop chain's chairman/CEO.
The multiplatform deal included significant advertising involving ESPN's college football coverage, with Pilot Flying J becoming the "official travel center of the Southeastern Conference. On-air talent including Paul Finebaum and Laura Rutledge also endorsed the truck stop chain, which the Haslam family sold its majority share of in 2017.
Haslam is scheduled to remain the company's chairman/CEO through 2023.
Although ESPN owns all of the SEC’s marketing and media rights, its relationship with Pilot Flying J was "irretrievably damaged" by Seth Wickersham's Jan. 24 piece detailing the inner-workings of the Browns under Haslam, who purchased the franchise in 2012. In his story, Wickersham provided a behind-the-scenes look at the dysfunction Cleveland has endured on-and-off-the-field with Haslam, which has included short-lived tenures for head coaches and general managers alike, as well as multiple public embarrassments from players and team employees.
In what was its first sports marketing play, Pilot Flying J served as the title sponsor of the 2016 Battle at Bristol football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech, which aired on ABC, which like ESPN, is owned by Disney. Two years and one controversial article later, however, it appears the company's next sports sponsorship deal will be taking place elsewhere.