BRISTOL, CT: ESPN responded to sports blog Deadspin's unleashing of sexually-charged rumors about the network with a mix of traditional media relations, internal communications, and social media, according to Mike Soltys, VP of US communications for the network.
ESPN found itself in the midst of a media firestorm when ESPN analyst Steve Phillips was accused of an extramarital affair and eventually fired. Deadspin's editor, AJ Daulerio, also accused ESPN's PR staff of lying to the blog and posted other rumors about ESPN staffers sexual liasons under the title "ESPN Horndog Dossier."
ESPN followed up with a statement, saying "Deadspin's self-admitted rumor mongering is despicable behavior by any standard… It is not worthy of response and those responsible should be called to account." It then posted that link and several stories about the situation to Twitter.
"The statement represents what the company was saying, but there is PR to it," said Soltys. "We did use Twitter on the statement in relation to Deadspin. We also used it when we let Steve Phillips go. We've been, in the past six months, using them quite a bit from a PR end and have just seen, with the speed of the news cycle, that it's currently the most effective way to get something out quickly."
The network also did more traditional media relations, responding to requests from outlets such as Time magazine. The network is also communicating with employees internally, Soltys said.
"We have an internal Web site and the president of our company posted a message addressing many different facets of this story," he said. "There's important workplace decorum messages to be communicating as well."
As for Deadspin's communications, Daulerio told PRWeek he's been monitoring and handling things on his own, doing interviews in the media and "just trying to answer anybody who has questions about it at this point. This is the third time this has happened [in recent months], where a story we've created has become very polarized."
"They're doing their job, and I think I'm doing mine," he said. "If something's wrong and factually incorrect, as I've dealt with ESPN PR in the past, I'll fix it."
After the New York Post reported that Phillips had an extramarital affair with a 22-year-old production assistant, Deadspin accused the PR staff at ESPN of lying about Phillips to the blog. Deadspin then began to post rumors about other ESPN staffers, painting a less-than-stellar picture of ESPN's company culture.
Soltys told PRWeek that Daulerio often came to the network with rumors and "if he had something down, we'd tell him he had something down. And if he had something wrong, which he had in this case, we'd tell him he had it wrong."
Deadspin, which is part of Gawker Media, is now being sued by a former ESPN employee for one of the stories.