Gun shops like the one pictured in Seattle will not be able to run commercials on ESPN like this one that ran for five months for a South Carolina gun shop before being dropped by ESPN. What changed? ESPN senior communications director Amy Phillips told the Post and Courier, “ESPN ad standards have not changed. It is our policy not to accept ads that involve handguns or handgun ammunition, both on a national and local level.”
Given that the commercial had been on the air since last August, ESPN’s decision invites questions about when and why it chooses to follow its media policies. Evidently, ESPN’s 2012 Advertising Standards and Guidelines packet was not on somebody’s summer reading list. A section found under the heading Firearms/Firearms Ammunition reads:
ESPN does not accept advertisements for handguns or handgun ammunition. Advertisements for rifles, shotguns and BB guns (rifle only) will be accepted on a case-by-case basis following approval. It is strongly recommended that all production elements (i.e., script or storyboard, rough cut, final version) be submitted as available. Tactical, assault or combat style rifles with high-capacity clips, flash suppressors and collapsing stocks will not be allowed. Once approved, these advertisements may only air in hunting-oriented programs and not in any Great Outdoor Game, Bass Tournament or similar “event” type programming.
In August 2012, East Coast Guns, a veteran owned and operated gun shop located in Summerville, SC, purchased a media buy for its 30 second spot to run on several local channels, including ESPN. The ad’s goal, which featured images of the shop’s inventory, including rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and pistols, was to motivate those looking to buy a gun for hunting, sport shooting, and personal protection to come on down to
“The Biggest Little Gunshop in the Lowcountry.” East Coast selected to advertise on ESPN because of demographics, preferring the ad to run during popular programming with high viewership numbers such as Sports Center and football games. At no point during the five month period did East Coast’s owner receive a warning or any indication that his commercial was in violation of ESPN’s standards.
Although Ron Sprovero, East Coast Gun’s owner, accepts ESPN’s having dropped the ad, he does question the hypocrisy underlying the decision. “When I questioned them, [the media company] came back and said that ESPN did not want gun stores because they feel that gun store commercials inspire and encourage violence in children. I find it ironic, that's the funny thing," Sprovero told WCBD-TV2 in Charleston.
ESPN is well within in its right to cancel the ad, but somehow, given the current political climate over gun control, the timing seems all too convenient.