A gunshot’s loud crack and a shattering alarm clock open and close a Summerville gun shop advertisement you can no longer see on ESPN.
“Get to East Coast Guns, before time runs out,” the voice-over suggests.
Time just ran out on the ad, at least for local ESPN viewers.
Shop owner Ron Sprovero said his local cable advertising contract to run ads on ESPN programming has not been renewed; he has been told ESPN has stopped running all gun-related ads, worried they promote violence in children.
The network is tightening up an advertising policy that restricts firearm-related ads and is sending reminders to local affiliates to adhere to it.
“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,” said Amy Phillips, senior communications director.
The sudden drop makes Sprovero one of the latest targets of what’s becoming a nationwide sentiment to limit the public exposure to at least some firearms and related advertisements following the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.
On Tuesday, as news of Sprovero’s “ad drop” spread, three people were wounded in a shooting at a Texas community college.
The sports network advertising reached some 20 percent of his potential customers, Sprovero said, people who do business with him on North Main Street for a mix of hunting, sport shooting and personal protection.
The dropped advertisement also showed semi-automatic AR-15 style rifles and handguns.
The ads are for a sporting public, “whether some people want to accept that or not. I think (the ad drop) is hypocritical, and I don’t think it’s right,” he said. “These are the guys (ESPN) that show mixed martial arts. My kids play mixed martial arts.”
ESPN joins companies such as Time Warner and Groupon in more aggressively monitoring what services or products are advertised.
“Groupon has been testing firearm-related deals like shooting ranges and concealed weapons courses for the last eight months. Based on performance and customer feedback, it’s clear they’re not a fit right now,” said Julie Mossler, communications director.
Time Warner Cable announced late last week it was banning ads showing guns pointed at people or semi-automatic weapons such as the AR-15 type used to kill 20 children and others during the Newtown shooting in December.
“If it’s essential to a business owner to show this kind of imagery in their commercials, there are other advertising options in the marketplace,” said Melissa Buscher, communications vice president.
Advertising industry advocates are largely keeping clear of the controversy.
“I’m not surprised. I heard some media outlets were looking at this step,” said Clark Rector, American Advertising Federation vice president. “That’s their right, and they’re within their rights to do it.”
AAF would step in if the government tried to restrict the advertising, he said. “If a product is legal and the advertising is truthful, you ought to be able to advertise; the government can’t restrict it.”
Gun sales in the Lowcountry largely are local, and the national cutback didn’t appear to be affecting other shops. Scott Hornsby of Carolina Rod and Gun on Savannah Highway in West Ashley said he doesn’t advertise beyond The Post and Courier and Charleston Mercury.
ATP Gun Shop and Range on College Park Road in Summerville has not had problems with television advertising because its ads promote services such as ladies night or concealed-weapons classes, said Eric Elliott of VIP Marketing and Advertising, which handles the shop’s ads. Gun sale ads were pulled after the December shooting. “We don’t promote gun sales.”
Sprovero said nearly all his sales are local, and the company handling his ESPN spots has moved the ads to other channels, which should help cover some of those lost customers. He worries that other channels might follow ESPN’s lead; ESPN is owned by Disney, which owns ABC and other outlets.
A new gun shipment he posted about on a social media website the other day was half sold out by the end of the day, he said. “So at least there’s always Facebook.”
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.