THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Some see conflicts in Kraft-ESPN ad deal

By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / September 25, 2009

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Kraft Sports Group, which owns the New England Patriots, is selling local advertising for the new ESPNBoston.com, a partnership that some media analysts say could create a conflict of interest.

ESPN has launched several new websites in Boston, Chicago, and other markets, and has sites planned for Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York.

In some markets, ESPN is using its local radio sales force to sell regional advertising for the new websites. But ESPN does not have a local sales group in Boston, so the sports media company has teamed up with Kraft Sports Group, which also owns the New England Revolution.

“They’re utilizing a sales force to fill a void they didn’t have in this marketplace,’’ said Stacey James, a spokesman for Kraft Sports Group.

But some media analysts said the partnership could create a conflict of interest between the Patriots and ESPN, which televises some Sunday afternoon football games.

“It has to raise a conflict of interest,’’ said Chris Cakebread, a Boston University professor who teaches advertising and sports marketing.

“We’re supposed to be about transparency. How can you be transparent when you cut such a tight relationship between a media group and a team?’’

James said the partnership does not create any conflict and that there are a number of examples of media entities partnering with sports teams. He added that Kraft Sports Group has agreements with sports radio WEEI and television station WBZ to help sell advertising inventory for its Patriots programming.

ESPN spokesman Paul Melvin said there are no concerns about conflict of interest, and “there is a very definitive wall between editorial and business.’’

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.