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The Sunday Sermon: Barstool, Sports Media and the Importance of Being Authentic

Since I found religion in a bottle of whiskey, I thought I'd start a new series which I call the Sunday Sermon. I'll be your preacher, and the subject of today's Sermon Atop Mount Barstool is ... authenticity.

This week, I was mainly transfixed (like most of the internet) by three things. Dave's Unboxing adventures, the exploits of Coach Duggs, and our own Erika Nardini's Token CEO podcast

What do these three things have in common?

Let me explain. 

We all were obsessed the past week about the exploits of our own beloved Coach Duggerton. Watching him win (and then nearly lose) the Fiesta Bowl to UConn (LOL) was riveting for us in a world without real sports. I mean, who'd have thought that watching someone play NCAA 2014 live on Twitch would be so interesting that the head of the actual, real Fiesta Bowl and the USC Football program (where Coach Duggs is now the OC) would weigh in? Is this real life?

When Big Cat wasn’t streaming, we were all glued to the proverbial tube that was the 12 days of IG Live Christmas, AKA the Unboxings. Watching Dave eat Laffy Taffy while opening hundreds of packages with reckless abandon while providing witty commentary for hours on end was a sight to behold. Who would have thought that these unboxings would drive a bigger audience than Lebron James (who btw has 63x the amount of followers)? 

Well, me, actually.

And during the day, every day, I put off my afternoon dog walk until Token CEO gets released. As a creative with real questions about the state of media, the state of our company as a whole and of course an interest in no-nonsense advice around succeeding in this environment, every episode gets me more fired up than the day before. It's also refreshing to hear about the hard days and not just hear about Erika’s perspective through rose-colored glasses. 

None of this shit is surprising nor is it new -- for this company, that is. It DOES seem to be a novel concept for the rest of our industry AS A WHOLE. 

The common thread I spoke about between a live twitch stream of a 6-year-old football game, a man opening unsolicited packages, and a concise podcast? 

Authenticity. That's the word of the day.

I mean, EVERYONE is talking about “AUTHENTICITY” right now. But in a sense, we’re the only company really “being about it”.  The reason that Coach Duggs has taken the internet by storm, that PFT has developed a hardcore Peloton Biker gang filled with pro athletes and Stoolies alike, that Friday Night Pints has become appointment viewing, is because it all seems to happen… SO ORGANICALLY. 

Things don’t feel forced. The cast of characters are OK talking about how shitty the day feels, OK having cameras film them in their apartments for 16 hours a day, and OK constantly trying out new ideas that are aligned with what they’re most interested in as a whole. 

Oh yeah, and they constantly create.

We as viewers feel it. We’re drawn to it. It’s relatable. It’s infectious. And thus, we become loyal to the personalities that consistently put out that free, loose, whimsical content. IMPORTANT content, I might add, when we all need something to distract us from the bad news all around us.

Outside of a few personalities at ESPN like Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, Stephen A (for better or for worse), and perhaps SVP, is there anyone you really TUNE IN FOR? Is there anyone you would switch your viewing habits for if they left? Is there anyone you'd tune in to watch unwrap a box of hissing cockroaches? Or watch toy horses run around a track while their dog barks

In short, is there anyone in sports media you really GIVE A SHIT ABOUT? 

The ratings overwhelmingly say “no”. 

And I believe that’s because these people we watch on TV are not free to be their authentic selves. Every second of each minute is accounted for. Do you know that Molly Querim’s “clap back style interjections” are even scripted on the teleprompter?  As Big Cat pointed out so astutely, “When sports media takes themselves too seriously all the time no one listens”.  

And as a result, when sports aren’t on, which ostensibly force us to tune in and LISTEN to what people say instead of tune out the voices while we watch the ball bounce, we as viewers find other things to do with our time than to watch these Stepford style talking heads. 

That exact same thing can be said for print media as well. So while it saddens me, it does not shock me that places like USA TODAY, SB Nation, and other media companies are furloughing or even laying off their sports reporters. 

Real, authentic connection to the consumer in all business is important, but in the content business, I think it's THE THING that separates success from failure.  

And it's what makes Barstool different. Dave says we all need to be working harder. Erika says we all need to innovate. And guess what? You see that EVERYWHERE. Maybe since I came from traditional media it's more stark and more clear to me. 

Listen. We KNOW that things aren't OK. We know that everyone's a little scared. But we are all going to get through this. We'll all be different when we come out the other end, for sure. But having seen the world from both sides of the media aisle, I know in my heart Barstool will be killing it. Why?

Because love us or hate us, we are always, unequivocally, 100% ourselves. 

And authenticity always wins.