Readers of The Advocate might have noticed a banner headline on the front page this morning billing the paper as “The Official Newspaper of the LSU Tigers.” It’s part of a new marketing campaign—the daily is also now the official paper of the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans—designed to help promote The Advocate as it tries to expand into the New Orleans and Acadiana markets.
“This is a business and marketing venture,” Advocate general manager Dan Shea tells Daily Report. “It allows us more signage, more visibility, things like that.”
While the Saints and Pelican sponsorships are new this season, The Advocate has long been among the corporate sponsors of LSU sports. This year, however, the publication increased its sponsorship level, buying the rights to call itself the “official” newspaper and newspaper website of the Tigers.
Neither Shea nor LSU or the Saints would discuss how much The Advocate is spending on the sponsorships, but Shea explains “it’s not different than any other corporate sponsorship.”
Experts, however, say this latest maneuver in the high-profile newspaper war between The Advocate and NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune is highly unusual.
“I have never heard of anything like that anywhere else in the country,” says Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, adding that the sponsorship raises a potential conflict of interest for The Advocate sports writers.
“It’s a dual relationship because you’re covering something that you sponsor,” he says. “Sports teams become news, both positive and negative. How do you deal with that?”
Shea says the newspaper has considered the potential conflict of interest, but will be able to maintain objectivity.
“We don’t have any special access and we are going to cover them as we would any other teams,” he says. “I told (Saints owner) Rita Benson, ‘If your team stinks we are going to report that they stink.'”