Love’em or Hate’em: Barstool Sports

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Started by Dave Portnoy in 2003, Barstool Sports has grown from a print magazine, distributed by hand to bars around the Boston area, to a one of the most influential sports media companies in the world. They have transitioned into a massive player on social media with their own account @barstoolsports and @oldrowofficial, having 2.9 million and almost 800k followers respectively. Barstool’s most popular podcast, Pardon My Take is regularly the most downloaded sports podcast on iTunes. Barstool is credited with creating the cult followed hashtag #saturdaysarefortheboys, which has become a symbol of the “bro culture.” GronkSAFTB

While many rightly state that the site is often lewd, infantile, and many times downright offensive, there is no denying that it has leveraged social media and become an extremely successful digital business at the hands of Mr. Portnoy, or El Presidente as Barstool followers (also known as stoolies) refer to him. In 2016, Barstool Sports took investment from The Chernin Group, selling 51% for roughly $15 million and effectively ending Portnoy’s ownership of the company. To best understand Barstool, it’s important to break down their presence into three parts: website/blog, social media, and podcasts.

Barstoolsports.com

Barstool Sports started as a simple blog and has grown to include gambling odds, a merchandise store, and seven specific cities in which receive tailored content. The majority of the content is in the form of blogs which range from comments on the current events of the day, to classic sports commentary and rankings, to re-posting incidents of debauchery. The most followed writers such as KFC, Big Cat, and Jerry Thornton have gained cult-like followings and even spun off podcasts. In past two years, Barstool has become such a powerful sports outlet that it has been able recruit away talents like Jerry Thornton from his radio show and column at WEEI in Boston and PFT Commenter from SB Nation. The website garners 6 million unique web traffics per month and advertising on the website is by far Barstool’s largest revenue generator. One of the fastest growing sectors of the Barstool revenue stream is its merchandise store, which the company has stated has done 400% year-over-year growth. This can be largely attributed to the popularity of such phrases such as Saturday’s Are For The Boys, which has been adopted to various colleges such as Saturday’s Are For The Eagles and so on. GoodellClown_300x.progressive.png.jpgOne of the most well known and widely recognized merchandise campaigns centered around the Tom Brady “Deflategate” conspiracy, which has led to the “Fire Goodell” and “Goodell Clown” hats and t-shirts. These items become senses of Barstool follower pride. It is clear that sports fans are inherently very passionate about their favorite teams and Barstool serves to play up these sport rivalries and fiery passions.

Social Media

Barstool uses their Social Media accounts, specifically Instagram and Twitter, to expand their reach from their fanatical following in cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago to a nationally popular sports media outlet. With their acquisition on Old Row, Barstool has gained a key foothold in the southern “Frat Bro” culture that they hope to be able to use to bring Barstool to the South. If an uninitiated were scroll through the feed of Barstool, many would be appalled by the amount of drinking, absurdity, and antics. One would be hard-pressed to believe that this was a multi-million dollar business that has the attention of millions each month. Right or wrong, the reach that this business has on the millennial population cannot be denied. While an extremely controversial and highly criticized figure (earlier this morning Samantha Ponder of ESPN had some harsh words for him), Dave Portnoy has a strong social media following for his One Bite series, which may be the most tame series featured on Barstool. One Bite has Portnoy traveling around New York City, and the country, sampling pizza and rating on a 1-10 decimal scale and has featured athletes like Brice Harper. It is these one off quotes such as Saturday’s are for the Boys and One bite, everybody knows the rules, that have contributed to the viral nature of Barstool’s online presence and thus fueled their advertising and rapid merchandise growth.

Podcasts

Barstool has grown its written sports coverage to spoken word through podcasts. Barstool offers numerous podcasts including its most popular Pardon My Take, a podcast focused on each major American sport such as Spittin’ Chiclets for Hockey, one focusing on the military, one focused on MMA and the UFC, and some created by Barstool writers such as KFC Radio and the I Am Rappaport show by Michael Rappaport. Their quick and massive expansion into the podcast realm accentuates their ability to quickly respond to trends and stay up to the moment relevant (a feature CEO Erika Nardini has cited as pivotal to their success) to their readers and listeners. Pardon My Take’s duo Big Cat and PFT (Pro Football Talk) Commenter have become so popular in the last 18 months that they have been featured in GQ and late last week announced that they will be hosting Barstool’s first show on ESPN “Barstool Van Talk.” This demonstrates a major step forward for Barstool as its only previous foray into the TV sector was a broadcast of their popular daily feature of the Rundown on Comedy Central. Some ardent Barstool supporters have criticized the move as “selling out” to ESPN, which in the past has been harshly denounced by the site in the past. While this perception is a major threat to alienating its strong base of support, I believe the opportunity for national exposure has much more upside for the company than downside.

Outside the Norms

While Barstool is continually in the news for making lewd, sexist, or insensitive remarks, it has withstood all previous criticism in the past due to it operating free from conventional media outlet constraints. The controversy surrounding Barstool has only served to heighten its notoriety or infamy across the country and it does not look to be slowing down anytime soon.

Leave your thoughts in the comments about what you think about Barstool Sports.

 

Cited

http://moneyinc.com/barstool-sports-is-acquiring-old-row-sports/

https://www.recode.net/2016/1/7/11588594/the-chernin-group-is-taking-a-majority-stake-in-controversial-website

https://www.forbes.com/sites/markjburns/2017/07/11/past-present-future-how-barstool-sports-is-swinging-for-the-fences-in-digital-media/#65f612a04edb

http://fortune.com/2016/01/07/the-story-of-how-barstool-sports-got-sold/

https://www.gq.com/story/barstool-sports-pft-commenter-big-cat-interview

9 comments

  1. Catherine · ·

    I can’t say I am a loyal follower of Barstool Sports, but am very much aware of the company’s success, especially on social media. The brand has continued to expand, as you mentioned, quickly into podcasts and merchandise, which is especially impressive, after discussing last week how difficult it is to pinpoint a clear path towards virality online. I think being so unconventional is the reason there are so many ‘stoolies’ today, and evidently there is substantial commercial value to be gained from this massive following.

  2. cgoettelman23 · ·

    My favorite part of Barstool Sports is their spin-off page called “Chicks in the Office”. I was actually going to write my next blog about it, because it’s a great way that a male-dominated viral account tries to appeal to women in the college demographic. I think that Barstool’s massive following is impressive, and whether you’re a fan or not, you know who they are. Great post, Matt!

  3. clairemmarvin · ·

    The title of this post is so fitting; love them or hate them it seems like Barstool Sports is here to stay (literally as I write this comment I am sitting behind a kid wearing a barstool sports hat). One of my best friend’s claim to fame is that a wake-boarding video of his brother got posted on Barstool! It is really interesting that despite all of the negative controversy surrounding some of Barstool’s posts, they are still able to keep such a loyal following and even gain users year to year.

  4. Barstool sports has been a frequent topic in this class over the years, and it’s been interesting to see how it’s developed and adapted to changes in technology. Nice post!

  5. taylorvanhare · ·

    Really interesting post and so relevant to us especially as college kids! I don’t think I realized the actual business value Barstool has been able to create through its different mediums – especially their online merchandising. I am also really intrigued about the spin-off page @cgoettelman23 mentioned – as I currently know Barstool to be more appealing to males. It will be interesting to see if they are able to gain a larger following from females – but I am slightly skeptical because of the controversies that surround some of Barstool’s lewd or offensive posts. Nonetheless super interesting!

  6. rjacques62 · ·

    Really interesting post! Not a huge fan of Barstool – for a company the claims to be focused on “Sports” they really spend a lot of time on things that are not sports. I just looked at their Facebook page and this is the breakdown of their last 10 posts: 6 posts totally unrelated to sports, one article about athletes but not sports, one about fans at a sporting event, and two articles actually about sports. Not really sure what a man burning his house down trying to kill a spider has to do with sports but they do have a really big following.

  7. I do enjoy reading Barstool for the Boston Sports, especially Carrabis for Baseball or Thorton on the Pats. I disagree with you on one point though. You said that Barstool is one of the most influential sports media companies in the world. I think it influences the fans but not sports.

    Take for example ESPN, they influence the NFL. Barstool doesn’t have that pull yet, they only influence the fans of the NFL. I am unsure if there goal is get to a level where they influence or work hand and hand with the major sports leagues, because that defeats the content that they produces. They are focused on producing a voice that is willing to speak out against Goddell and the NFL, but if they were to have a relationship with the NFL like ESPN, it would surely diminish there content. The NFL isn’t going to work hand and hand with a company that is willing to give them a black eye.

    On another note, everyone wants to talk about the vulgarity of the site and you can’t deny that to be true. But there are some level of moral ethics behind the business. Take for example the Barstool Blackout parties. They tried them for a few years, but Portnoy decided to stop them because the parties encouraged drug usage, and that is something that he did not want to be a part of. A few weeks ago, they posted a female hockey goalie because of her looks, once she requested to be taken down (because of issues it may have caused her with school), they immediately complied with her request and took down the blog. I think to that point they are not going to post pictures of females without there consent.

  8. camcurrie99 · ·

    Barstool, for better or worse, does have a sort of cult following like you say. I read and follow several of Barstool’s social media channels daily and it has increasingly impressed me how much content they have been able to deliver since they were bought by the Chernin Group a couple years back. While they don’t post as much about sports as they perhaps used to, their content on golf (Foreplay) and hockey (Spittin’ Chiclets) has been really good so far this year and they certainly will continue to have me as a user for the foreseeable future. I don’t purchase their merchandise or anything, but so many people do and their products have become a symbol of college (male) students across the country.

  9. sejackson33 · ·

    Great discussion of Barstool’s different presences online and in social media! I’m not a regular follower, but I have always been fascinated by Barstool and kind of jealous of the cult of mostly men who follow it. I think a lot of their content, posts, and articles are engaging, informational and clever. Like Taylor, I did not realize how much business value they have been able to create, but it makes a lot of sense given their extensive following.

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