So about a week ago I got an email to my work account from “Jared” with the subject line “Slow Friday? Wanna read my final paper about BSS?” It was, in fact, a slow Friday, so I opened up the attachment out of curiosity. I figured best case scenario it would be horrible and would make some good content. I printed it out and brought it upstairs, kicked my feet up on my radiator, grabbed my edit pen and gave it a read.
No joke this is the most comprehensive history of Barstool Sports ever written. It’s basically a Wikipedia entry on steroids. There were like 5 or 6 things in here I didn’t even remember happening. Everything spelled out from the newspaper Astrovan days to the current 15,000 square foot office in Manhattan with 100 employees. The rise of the company, the bloggers that came in along the way, the major controversies and storylines. Seeing all the charity all of the Stoolies have done with us made me feel fuzzy.
Sure there were a bunch of syntax and grammar errors but whatever, I wasn’t here to do this kid’s report for him. That’s cheating. I went through, fixed the spelling errors, fact checked all of the info and sent him back some corrections.
Here’s the final draft.
Sports, Smut & Shooting The Shit: How Barstool Is Rising Above the Rest
A free Boston gambling newspaper-turned multi-million dollar sports media outlet. A Swampscott High School baseball star and Michigan graduate, once working out of a dingy Milton, Massachusetts office, now finds himself atop an empire headquartered in Manhattan. The brick-by-brick, salt-of-the-earth ascension of Barstool Sports and founder Dave “El Pres” Portnoy shines as a gleaming example of the classic American dream. What started 15 years ago as a free newspaper with four contributors now boasts a $115 million valuation and a multi-million dollar Manhattan office with over 100 employees in-house, as well as many part- time writers scattered across the US. What was a news stand novelty now competes directly with ESPN, FS1, and other time-worn titans of sports media. Barstool has taken the world by storm, gaining legions of vociferous followers uniting under the Stool & Stars. But to understand the company is to know its origins.
The company was founded in 2003, beginning with Portnoy standing outside of T-stops around Boston, handing out free copies of his gambling odds newspaper: Barstool Sports. The name wasn’t Portnoy’s first choice, but was chosen simply because it was available as a web address. Even the logo was something he settled for, born of simple clip-art as the design which he had professionally curated proved too complex to print. His funding was scarce, almost entirely dependent on revenue generated from advertisements for online sports books. It is likely that Portnoy’s persistence was the only thing that ever allowed the paper to survive, as he handled distribution almost entirely on his own in the early days while still authoring the entirety of each issue.
The paper touted the tagline “By The Common Man, For The Common Man”, appealing to Boston’s regular Joe, and breaking a mold cast by traditional pen-to-pad beat writers and big-time outlets like ESPN. The free paper rapidly garnered notoriety amongst locals, and soon featured original articles from what was Dave’s original cast of writers: Jamie Chisholm, Peter Manzo, and Jerry ‘Old Balls’ Thornton. Of these originals, only Portnoy and Thornton remain with the company today. The paper also featured another key element, which proved to define the Barstool brand: hot girls. Dave would feature photos of scantily clad local coeds on the cover of each issue, which boosted readership and led to a spike in ad revenue. Today, ‘Smokeshow Of The Day’,remains a staple of Barstool’s daily content, featuring images of attractive college girls from across the country.
The paper had everything you needed to draw in the time-honored common man: sports, humor and chicks. The departure from traditional journalism held massive appeal to Boston’s 18-35 male demographic, who enjoyed the writing style described by Portnoy as “how you’d talk about sports in a bar”. Barstool quickly grew in popularity, leading Portnoy to take the company online in 2007 by posting a PDF version of the week’s paper on barstoolsports.com. In 2009, Portnoy established Barstool New York, hiring New York residents Kevin “KFC” Clancy (who had run a sports blog of his own entitled ‘For Sure Not’) and Keith “Kmarko” Markovich to run things locally. Clancy, now a part owner in Barstool, gave up a lucrative career in finance to follow Portnoy’s vision and cultivate his passion for sports writing. In 2011, Kmarko was tasked with running BarstoolU, a new sect of Barstool’s growing empire that was primarily targeted toward Barstool’s sizable college audience. Today, he serves as the blog’s editor-in-chief as well as part-owner. 2011 also brought Barstool Philadelphia into the mix. Barstool Philly was headed up by Maurice ‘Mo’ Peebles, who later left for Complex Magazine and was replaced with Adam ‘Smitty’ Smith, who remains today. Barstool Chicago came a year later in 2012, eventually finding a qualified leader in Dan ‘Big Cat’ Katz in 2013, who is also now a part owner.
The year of 2013 marked a period of rapid expansion of Barstool. First and foremost, the last print edition of Barstool Sports was issued, and Pres took the company completely online into a blog format. With the addition of daily original video content, Barstool’s web presence grew. The first consistent video content came in the form of the ‘Bro Show’, which featured Pres, Big Cat and KFC engaging in whatever tomfoolery they could find. Having the bloggers all in one place made for some of Barstool’s best content to date, such as Pres and Big Cat’s interrogation of Intern Simon when he illegally downloaded pirate- themed porn using company internet. But the travel proved too big of a burden for the trio, which made the Bro Show a precursor to ‘The Barstool Rundown’. The Rundown began as a group Skype call between Portnoy, Katz, and Clancy recounting the top stories of the day. This proved to be the best way to feature all three main personalities together while alleviating the travel burden. Other personalities made regular appearances as well, such as Boston’s John ‘Feits’ Feitelberg or Philly’s Smitty. Today, the Rundown is done in-house at Barstool’s Manhattan headquarters.
Later the same year, Portnoy hired Eric “Nate” Nathan to run what would be called Barstool DMV (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia), and Trent Ryan to run Barstool Iowa. Portnoy also hired Nick Hall to run what was to be Barstool LA in November of 2013, but Hall was let go in mid December after what can only be described as an all-around cataclysmic failure.
The popular February 2, 2015 Barstool Rundown featuring Pres, Big Cat and a triggered KFC after the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX victory.
Over the next two years, Barstool found it’s rhythm and took shape as a successful online sports media outlet. The new cities established themselves as integral parts of the Barstool empire, and content flowed day-in and day-out. In an attempt to streamline the website’s front and back ends, as well as the new mobile app, Portnoy hired purported expert web developers, who were dubbed ‘Devnest’. Unfortunately, Devnest ended up losing years of content and ultimately mucking up Barstool’s user interface. Nevertheless, Barstool kept churning out blogs, expanding their social media presence, and growing their reader base.
In the beginning of 2015, Barstool began to make some noise on a national level. The New England Patriots’ run at their fourth Super Bowl ring created a plethora of content, specifically from Portnoy, who is a Patriots fanatic. Daily fantasy sports website Draftkings ended up sponsoring a weeklong stay in a house in Arizona (where the Super Bowl was to be played) for Portnoy and a group of Barstool bloggers. Following the accusations made against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and what came to be known as the infamous ‘DeflateGate’ scandal, Portnoy decided to take the fight to his longstanding arch-nemesis NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In late January 2015, Portnoy obtained a press pass to gain access to the NFL’s Super Bowl Media Day, an event where he was able to interact with Patriots stars and media members in an entertaining way while producing quality video content.
Media day is also where he confronted ESPN reporter Sal Palantonio and NFL Executive Mike Kensil, among others, about their roles in the ongoing DeflateGate scandal. Portnoy confronting Mike Kensil, who quickly fled the area upon being questioned about DeflateGate.
Later in 2015, when the NFL announced that Brady would be suspended four games for the scandal, Portnoy took drastic measures. He and three of his Barstool Boston brethren, Feitelberg, Paul ‘Gaz’ Gulczynski, and Henry ‘Handsome Hank’ Lockwood, staged a sit-in protest at the NFL’s head office in Manhattan, NY. The demonstration began with the group picketing outside the league office, holding signs mocking the NFL and chanting “Free Brady, Fire Goodell, Kensil’s a Bitch” while marching in a circle. The group then headed inside where they demanded a meeting with Commissioner Goodell. When they weren’t granted a face-to-face with the man they held most responsible for DeflateGate, they handcuffed themselves to one another and sat in a circle on the lobby floor. Some time later, NYPD arrived and arrested ‘The Brady Four’ who spent the night in jail for their bravery – a punishment they wear with unabashed pride.
In 2016, Barstool underwent a renaissance. Portnoy sold 51% of the company to the Chernin Group, an entertainment conglomerate, who valued Barstool at $100 million. Part of the sale was a relocation from their headquarters in Milton, MA to an office in Manhattan, NY.
The sale also called for a CEO to be hired. Portnoy interviewed 75 candidates for the job: 74 men and one woman. As it turned out, she was the one. Former AOL and Yahoo executive Erika Nardini was awarded the office of CEO as the bulk of Barstool’s employees picked up their lives and met her in Manhattan. Portnoy still retains the title of Chief of Content. Shortly before the move, Barstool hired notorious sports satirist PFT Commenter (whose true identity remains largely unknown) at the recommendation of Big Cat. The pair soon launched a podcast titled ‘Pardon My Take’, which took home Apple’s ‘Sports Podcast of the Year’ in their inaugural year, and hasn’t been ranked outside of the top five sports podcasts on iTunes since their first episode.
Currently, they are the #15 podcast in the world. Many other moderately successful podcasts came about following the move to New York, covering topics such as baseball (Starting 9), pro wrestling (From The Top Rope), hockey (Spittin’ Chiclets) basketball (Mickstape), and even non- sports topics like military talk (Zero Blog Thirty), fashion (Failing Upwards) and movies (Lights, Camera, Podcast).
Barstool continued to thrive in 2017, especially during Super Bowl 51, when they signed a deal with Comedy Central to do a live version of the Barstool Rundown every night at midnight for the week leading up to the big game. The deal was a resounding success, and the content was wildly entertaining. However, nothing more came of the appearance, and the Rundown went back to being posted daily on Barstool’s webpage. Still, the exposure was great for the brand, and padded Barstool’s following even further.
Comedy Central wasn’t the only big story for Barstool in February 2017. On February 2nd, Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee retired from the NFL and joined Barstool Sports to run what is now called Barstool Heartland. Heartland’s main draw is their podcast “The Pat McAfee Show”, but also provides College Football coverage and other various video content. McAfee chose to headquarter Heartland in Indianapolis, extending Barstool’s reach into a new territory.
Later in 2017, in a groundbreaking turn of events, Barstool partnered with ESPN to create a show called “Barstool Van Talk” featuring Pardon My Take’s PFT Commenter and Big Cat. The show was cancelled after only one episode, as ESPN CEO John Skipper cited Barstool’s past content as a reason to dissociate with the brand amid internal criticism from ESPN employees. PMT’s popularity emerged unscathed, as they still currently enjoy the #1 spot on Apple’s sports podcast rankings. Skipper, however, has left ESPN amid massive layoffs, claiming he is seeking treatment for addiction.
In January 2018, Barstool launched it’s own 24/7 radio programming after taking over Sirius channel Power 85. 2018 has also brought several new hires, including retired Arizona Coyotes left-wing Paul ‘Biz Nasty’ Bissonnette as a cohost on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, former NBC Sports Boston reporter Kayce Smith, Marine Corps veteran and comedian Kate Mannion, and former CSN New England and MSG Network correspondent Liz Gonzales.
So what’s the big deal? How did this rag tag bunch of common sports fans get so damn famous? The answer is simple: because no one does it like they do. Barstool has proven time and again that they do things their way, and they aren’t afraid of political correctness like other outlets who tiptoe ever-so-carefully across a sea of eggshells. Their legions of dedicated fans (dubbed “Stoolies”) take pride in this from-the-ground-up company, and are quick to stick up for the brand. In a market dominated by agendas, political correctness, and the same old tired people doing the same old tired stuff, Barstool Sports has emerged as a refuge for those seeking a fresh, unfiltered media outlet willing to skip the sensitivity. Their style of sports and lifestyle media challenges the rigid formality of traditional journalism and appeals to those who seek sports as a true escape from what’s going on in this crazy world. Of course, they still feature many writers who will offer legitimate, in-depth sports analysis, and even break some major sports news stories. But Barstool has found the delicate balance between journalism and crass humor that makes them a transcendent force in the sports media industry. Though there are many intangibles that are responsible for their unique level of success, there are a few key features to Barstool’s business model that allow them to excel.
One of the distinct facets of Barstool that sets them apart from competitors in sports media is their ability and willingness to engage with their fanbase. Stoolies are characterized as a legion of raucous, ride-or-die fanatics that follow not only the blog, but the lives of the content personalities and the weekly happenings within the company. Portnoy shows frequent appreciation for the fans of his company on whom he often calls for contribution to worthy charities.
In the modern age, the use of social media is essential for internet-based publications to engage their reader-base. This is where Barstool excels the most. Josh Fenster, an analyst for social media analytics firm Social Bakers, released several graphs via Twitter detailing Barstool’s interactions per 1,000 followers juxtaposed against their top competitors. The statistics revealed the sheer dominance of Barstool’s social media presence. On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Barstool blows away the competition. Focusing on ESPN in particular, their engagement is among the worst compared to Barstool. Barstool is valued at $115 million dollars, yet they receive 100%-2000% more engagements on social media than ESPN, who are worth $50 billion dollars or 43,378% more than Barstool. More with less. The Barstool difference.
Since the early days of the Stool, Portnoy has prided himself on his ability to push merchandise promoting the Barstool brand. The Barstool apparel store extends an important revenue stream for the company, who received 35,000 merchandise orders on the weekend of their 2017 Black Friday sale alone.
The shirts are famed for their often humorous, sometimes raunchy, and always creative design. One of their top-sellers, the Goodell Clown Tee, was donned by former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia while disembarking the team plane after New England won Super Bowl LI. The tee was created to spite NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, with whom Portnoy has a blood-feud, after his mishandling of the 2015 “DeflateGate” scandal (read: witch hunt).
The apparel allows Barstool to creatively market their talent and their brand. The most notable and popular apparel in the store is their “Saturdays Are For The Boys” merchandise line. Saturdays Are For The Boys was a phrase picked up in a Rhode Island bar by blogger John Feitelberg when he overheard a random gentleman remark “fridays are for men, but saturdays are for the boys”. Upon tweeting the phrase, Feitelberg had unknowingly set a cultural phenomenon in motion. Thousands of college kids across the US picked up on “Saturdays Are For The Boys”, often calling it out during various antics at college parties, or merely using it as a rallying cry amongst their buddies. Upon realizing the instant popularity of the slogan, Barstool capitalized and trademarked it for use on clothing apparel and merchandise.
Saturdays Are For The Boys, or SAFTB, continued to spread like wildfire. Shirts and tanks sold as fast as they were printed, and Barstool even released a 3’x5’ flag bearing the phrase. Soon, a viral video trend emerged where college males would seek out pro-athletes and celebrities to ask them what Saturdays are for. More often than not, the famous figures would answer “The Boys”, and the video would be sent into Barstool, who would in turn plaster it across their social media pages. The celebrity endorsements catapulted SAFTB into stratospheric popularity. The popularity dies down around wintertime, but with each summer it seems that the movement only grows stronger.
Aside from sports, Barstool shows incredible flashes of compassion in the wake of tragedy. Portnoy often praises Stoolies for their willingness to step up to the plate and help out whenever asked. Their largest charitable donation came in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, when Portnoy called on all Stoolies to help raise money for victims of the tragedy. The story of Marc Fucarile resonated with him in particular after asking Stoolies to email him with donation recommendations. Fucarile is an avid Barstool reader, a “blue collar guy” by Portnoy’s description, and a family man. To assist Marc in his time of need, Barstool released their “BOSTON STRONG” tee-shirt, available in Men’s Tee, Women’s Tee, and Tank Top. When all was said and done, Portnoy presented Marc with a check for $240,000. At $24 per shirt, that’s about 10,000 Boston Strong shirts sold in the summer of 2013.
- Barstool raised $85,000 for former Boston Pride forward Denna Laing following her career-ending spinal injury resulting in paralysis from the waist down in the 2016 Women’s Classic.
- On March 26, 2014, a large fire in a brownstone on Boston’s Beacon Street claimed the lives of two Boston Firefighters. Portnoy released shirts to raise money for the families of those firefighters to aid in their time of need. By March 31, 2014, the final donation total was $68,000 raised over a mere four days of sales.
- Later in December 2014, NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were ambushed and killed in their patrol car. Barstool New York’s lead blogger Kevin “KFC” Clancy released a shirt to help raise money for the slain officers’ families. The proceeds from the shirts ended up totaling roughly $104,000, which was donated to the Daily News Ramos-Liu fund.
- For veterans, Barstool raised over $30,000 for K9’s for Warriors, $22,000 for Col. Tony Dingmann to receive a service dog, and $15,000 for a wheelchair for Wounded Warrior Zach Parker.
- After the incredibly tragic Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL, Barstool released shirts that gathered $50,000 to donate to victims of the attack.
- Barstool’s flagship podcast “Pardon My Take” made a bet with Houston Texans Defensive End J.J. Watt that they would raise $50,000 for the J.J. Watt Foundation if he agreed to an interview on the podcast. Fans of the show ended up raising $60,345.
- Barstool has also maintained a five-years-and-running relationship with the Pete Frates Foundation to combat ALS. Each year, Portnoy and company host a charity night known as “Pints for Pete”.
Writing & Content Style
In keeping with their motto “By The Common Man, For The Common Man”, Barstool’s bloggers have always taken on a certain clubhouse tone with their writing. Whether the topic is last night’s game, or getting pissed over some stupid pop culture storyline, the writers have all but abandoned a formal journalistic style, favoring the kind of vernacular usually found at a high-top in Buffalo Wild Wings. This blend of humor and conversational tone alleviates the reader of the burden of sifting through bland, drawn-out columns devoid of passion that you find in your local paper. These guys figured out that you can put together a coherent sports piece and make people laugh instead of sounding like a desk-bound drone of a columnist trying to hit their word count so that they can go home.
Barstool’s barroom tone has transcended these old guard columnists and ushered in the era of entertainment-focused journalism. This is in large part to the fact that Barstool mainly provides commentary instead of breaking news (though they’ve occasionally done that too).
These aren’t people with press passes. The bloggers aren’t holding a recorder in the press room. They are real, genuine sports fans who write from a fan’s perspective while also acknowledging that they are beholden to a reader base that expects to be entertained. Because of this, each blogger’s personality is able to shine through their writing, adding a layer that connects the reader more personally to the content.
Sports stories aren’t the only thing you’ll find on the blog, however. Barstool has long provided readers with entertaining commentary on unusual or entertaining news stories from around the globe. Even right now, heading over to barstoolsports.com, one would find the first two headlines to read “Do You Remember Where You Were When Baron Davis Pulled Off One Of The Most Lethal Dunks In NBA History?” and “Vegas Plans to Break the World Orgy Record with 1,000 Participants”.
Readers are able to further flesh-out the personality of each blogger through Barstool’s daily video content. Whether it’s clips on Snapchat and Twitter, or fully edited videos posted to the blog, Barstool’s video content allows the bloggers to showcase their character to the Stoolies. “Stool Scenes”, an ongoing video series released in biweekly installments and hosted by blogger ‘Young Pageviews’, chronicles the goings-on in the office in a candid and organic Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, an old guard, desk-bound drone of a columnist way. Inside the Barstool HQ, the cameras are always rolling, offering readers a glimpse of the real-life person behind the blogs they read all day.
Every company nowadays seems to find themselves embroiled in some kind of controversy. Whether it’s someone dropping an insensitive tweet, or caught on camera engaging in “unprofessional” behavior, the usual “I apologize” song-and-dance is sure to follow. The Barstool Difference? They don’t say sorry, they fight back. And more often than not, they come out on top.
When a company takes on such an informal tone with an expansive following like Barstool’s, it’s only a matter of time before someone becomes indignant enough where they need to stomp their feet and screech into the twittersphere. Some past examples illustrate why it’s just a plain bad idea idea to try to high-road Barstool, and how never trying to be something they’re not has served them well over the years.
KO Barstool was a Northeastern University-based pseudo-feminist activist group who marched on Boston in 2012 to protest what was perceived to be Barstool’s perpetuation of rape culture. The protests latched onto a particularly off-color joke by Portnoy in a 2010 blog about a sexual assault victim. Portnoy quipped “even though I never condone rape if you’re a size 6 and you’re wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserve to be raped right?”. A ridiculous and uncalled for statement to be sure, but one that Portnoy refused to back down from. He argued that, whether or not the joke was offensive, he has the comedic license to make it.
Blackout Parties were another point of contention for the KO protestors. Barstool’s Blackout Tour, a series neon-themed blacklight EDM concerts aimed at college students, was mainly criticized by the KO crowd as perpetuating rape culture and sexual misdeeds against women. Add this to Portnoy’s locker room demeanor on the blog, and you get some pretty incensed protestors.
On the night of a Blackout Party in Boston’s House of Blues KO Barstool marched on the street outside the venue. In keeping with his “never back down” resolve, Portnoy showed up to the rally in an attempt to have a dialogue with the group. He was instead met with violent words and shouted off stage. One gentleman in the KO crowd even yelled “Let him talk! He gets to talk too!” Portnoy was forced to exit the stage to a chant of “fuck off”.
Dave’s comments after the incident are worth examining: (6:38-7:27)
“Here’s the thing. It was a weird scene. We went to that rally to see what it was all about. Originally I was gonna do the whole ‘Occupy Boston’,” (referencing his “man on the street” style video poking fun at the Occupy Boston protests) “ask people questions, poke fun. But, you know, there’s girls going up there talking about getting assaulted, so I walked up to Paul and I was like ‘we cant do it’.You know, we don’t wanna make fun of rape because we’re not trying to do that and we’re anti-rape. So we were just gonna bag it and call it a day. And then the girl on the microphone actually pointed at me and was like “DAVE”. So it’s like, alright, you want it, here it comes. I was gonna come down and say my thing, and what I was gonna say is ‘listen, we’re anti-rape just as much as you. We don’t believe in it. You guys are taking two jokes that were clearly satirical and blowing them out of proportion. We’re on your side in that we don’t like rape. You guys are fighting the wrong battle.’”
Portnoy went on to say that he recognized 95% of the crowd from Occupy Boston, a group that voted to allow Level III Sex Offenders to camp with them, which, he remarked, doesn’t exactly stink of a united front.
KO Barstool represents a larger sect of the population that firmly believes that Barstool is inherently misogynistic. But the more time has drawn on and the more that Barstool has grown, El Pres and company have steamrolled that claim. Barstool now features around 10 full- time female content creators, with three new hires in 2018 alone in Kate, Kayce and Liz. What’s more is when 51% of Barstool was sold to the Chernin Group in 2016 and they needed a CEO, they hired a powerful female in Erika Nardini when they had every opportunity to hire another dude.
Adam C. Best
In a joke blog, Barstool’s handsomest blogger Matthew ‘Uncle Chaps’ Cothron likened a deformed pumpkin to a woman’s rear end, Fansided sports blog founder Adam C. Best The original reaction thread by Best decided to mount up his white horse. In a series of tweets he complained of Barstool’s “low road to success, working against cultural progress as hateful bigoted counterprogramming”. He continued the barrage, calling Barstool “a disgusting outlet nobody should take seriously”. Having seen enough, Barstool DMV blogger Eric “Nate” Nathan decided to do a little digging to see how qualified Mr. Best was to levy this criticism. As is the case more often than not, Adam Best was a pure, through-and-through hypocrite. Nate brought to light a myriad of Adam’s best objectification of women during his years writing for Fansided – from crass captions on videos of cheerleaders all the way to “boobs or butt?” polls. Things turned disturbing when Nate uncovered a Best tweet from 2009 reading “As for the Big Ben Roethlisberger rapist stuff; maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. But there is one indisputable fact: that bitch is fugly”. Another tweet read “speaking of Megan Fox, she turned down being a Bond girl? Daniel Craig should pimp slap her”. Later in 2009, he tweeted “Kobe haters, he didn’t rape that crazy bitch. She went on American Idol & told everybody in high school she wanted to be famous. Star****er.” All of this exposed because of an objection to a tweet sexualizing a pumpkin. Wild.
An instant classic. O’Grady ran “The Cauldron” an online blog-style column division of Sports Illustrated. Notice the past tense of “ran”. This is because O’Grady made his sheckles Jamie O’Grady allowing random submissions by amateur writers to flood the Cauldron. One of these submissions was entitled “How Barstool Sports Uses Social Media As A Weapon”. On a normal day, a hit piece like this is expected by those at Barstool. They are who they are, they don’t try to hide it, and they know they aren’t for everyone. O’Grady’s grave mistake was his attempt to extend a “professional courtesy” to blogger KFC before the hit piece dropped. Sitting on the fence, talking from both sides of his mouth, O’Grady placed himself squarely in no man’s land, ripe for exposing.
His messages to KFC boiled down to “hey, I’m running an amateur piece that will land me massive clicks because people love controversy involving your company. But no hard feelings and I hope we can still be friends”. In a slimy attempt to save face on a low-level teardown, O’Grady inspired Barstool’s most vengeful blogger to write a takedown piece of his own. KFC ended up blogging the entire Twitter DM conversation accompanied by fiery commentary. The outcome? A year after the incident, Barstool moves to NYC to the tune of a $100 million dollar valuation, while Sports Illustrated decides to end their content sharing agreement with The Cauldron.
Oh no. Barstool’s relationship with former Friends guest star and recent Cumberland Farms coffee commercial star Michael Rappaport began innocently enough – born of a friendship between he and Barstool’s Pardon My Take podcast. Eventually, seeing his popularity as a recurring guest on PMT, Portnoy decided to bring him on full time. During his employment, he went bananas. Rappaport frequently embroiled himself in feuds with other personalities, namely with Smitty over a Fantasy Football bet. These weren’t the ‘joking around’ kind of feuds normally found in the office; these were oddly personal, and mostly unprovoked.
Barstool’s longtime bloggers found themselves at a point of soreness with Rappaport, who rarely promoted the Barstool brand in his public appearances and was perceived to just be using the outlet as a mean of self-promotion. Plainly: he never fit into the dysfunctional family Barstool had created. The tension came to a head when Rappaport began insulting Barstool’s readers on twitter, telling them they should be ashamed to call themselves Stoolies, and that they were the real losers. Barstool employees, content creators or otherwise, quickly came to the defense of their fans and took the opportunity to publicly air all of their grievances against Rappaport. Rappaport then began acting erratically and strangely responding to his critics with the same copy-and-paste retort over and over – a jab at Smitty – which worsened his look in the situation. In short, it got ugly, and we don’t talk about him anymore. Portnoy woke up the following morning and, while still in bed, publicly fired Rappaport in an insult-laden video statement on Twitter. Following the firing came a roast curated by Barstool’s content creators where each personality unleashed their best jabs at Rappaport in the form of a rap video.
So what are the fruits of a business offering unique content limited only by their own sense of humor? The outcome is acceptance. Acceptance into the 9-5 cube monkey’s heart as their source of escape when they have their insufferable boss breathing down their neck about the format of their latest TPS report. Acceptance and trust among the pro-athlete community as a media outlet that finally isn’t trying to blow up their spot with breaking news or shocking headlines. Pardon My Take alone has featured over 200 guests of varying degrees of sports (and non sports) fame over their almost 350 episodes. Listening to the interviews, you can hear as the athletes unwind and realize that they aren’t answering the same old questions from some uppity superficial beat writers. They’re talking to guys who are gonna joke around and let them be themselves instead of whatever their PR coach wants them to be. This has allowed Barstool unprecedented access into the world of pro sports, as they’ve built that level of trust that says “hey, we’re not here to treat you like a show pony, we’re here to hang out.” Portnoy’s fanatical support of the Patriots, for example, has earned him a friendship with Robert Kraft. Upon their meeting for the first time at a press event, Kraft told Portnoy how important he was to the Patriots franchise as a supporter, even going so far as to say “it’s Brady, Belichick, and Portnoy”.
Pardon My Take, as has been mentioned, has developed solid relationships with people like Detroit Pistons Power Forward Blake Griffin, Jacksonville Jaguars Quarterback Blake Bortles, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and Rachel Nichols, and NBCSports host/ProFootballTalk founder Mike Florio. As previously mentioned, former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, a longtime recurring guest on Pardon My Take, ended up liking Barstool’s approach so much that he announced his retirement from the NFL on Barstool’s social media platforms and then joined the company.
Acceptance and trust from the pro sports community has afforded Barstool opportunities to create truly unique and organic content featuring the athletes you rarely see the human side of. Pres and Big Cat made a video of them trying to beat Detroit Lions Tight- End Tony Scheffler in a game of two-on-one basketball. Pres still regularly accepts NHL challengers for the ‘El Pres Goalie Challenge’, where pro hockey players take 10 shots at him playing goalie to see how many they can get by him. A group of the guys had an ice skating competition in 2016 featuring Rob Gronkowski as a guest judge alongside Jerry. Pardon My Take made a series of ‘Exit Interviews’ with their guests where they would take them into the Barstool office bathroom and perform some truly outlandish stunts to see how uncomfortable they could make the guest – all in good fun of course.
The list of interactions is endless. Barstool has gained the ability to give sports fans a look at the person beneath the uniform when it comes to pro athletes, and they do it in a way that can’t be copied. Their business was founded on doing their own thing, and their persistence to that end has led them to become something that the rest of the industry can only hope to achieve. The big outlets might be worth more money – that’s fine. While ESPN is laying off hundreds of employees at a time, Barstool is currently seeking a larger space in New York to accommodate the unending growth of their electric factory. Name another company that can do what Barstool does, you can’t.
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