If you’re not one of the 10 million people who watched LeBron James’ announcement special last week you’ve still undoubtedly heard the hoopla surrounding it. The one-hour decision decree, aired on ESPN, was made possible by paid advertisement. Albeit most proceeds went to charity, the program netted nearly 6 million dollars in ad revenue. It should be noted that sponsors like Vitamin Water, McDonalds, State Farm and Microsoft’s Bing all have preexisting endorsement deals with the self-anointed King.

Manufactured primarily by “Lebrontourage” and agent Ari Emmanuel, the decision to air James’ move to the Miami Heat as a television special yields a back story that resembles the making of a Hollywood movie. Whether you champion James’ move to the Heat or were one of many Cavs fans setting his jersey ablaze, the question at the heart of this story remains did ESPN sell out?

The blurring of journalistic lines here is pretty significant. It seems clear that the desire for ratings was placed above news-reporting. Do people care about LeBron’s decision? Absolutely. Is it newsworthy? Of course. Does the production surrounding the announcement further mar the reputation of ESPN as a legitimate sports journalism outlet? Well…yeah. Did ESPN compromise its journalistic integrity while fueling the massive ego of a sports celebrity? (I’ll let you answer that one on your own).

I’ll admit I’m not much of a sport fan. So I’ll leave it to other bloggers to scrutinize the intent behind ESPN’s decision. Regardless of the motivation, the bigger picture leaves one wondering about the future of all journalistic reporting. Is advertiser-fueled programming the wave of the future? According to a recent study published by Ball State University, Americans get only 50% of their information from traditional media. While the world moves increasingly online, are traditional media sources grasping at straws to stay afloat? The line is getting pretty blurry. One can hardly read an actual newspaper without being inundated with advertisements that are run alongside content. What’s next? The State of the Union address with the Golden Arches prominently displayed behind the leader of the free world?

No matter your feelings with regard to LeBron James or ESPN, it’s hard to deny the blatant success it yielded for advertisers everywhere. It’ll be interesting to see what this decision means for the future (and no, I’m not talking about a possible championship win) of advertising’s role in traditional media. Like the Lebron announcement, I guess we’ll all be witnesses.

Posted by Lindsay Vehr, Marketing Assistant, 7.14.10

The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not reflect the views of Vehr Communications, LLC.