Today I want to talk about a company that is every bit as entertaining as it is polarizing -Barstool Sports.
Barstool began originally from the home of its founder and “El Presidente” David Portnoy who passed out paper issues along the T lines of Boston starting in 2003. An interesting and fun fact is that the first real employees of Barstool were homeless men and women that Portnoy would pay to pass out the papers for him. The company initially started as a very “frat” satire newspaper covering topics such as gambling, fantasy football and of course sports. This helped establish a small but loyal cult audience who enjoyed the lifestyle of the Stoolie. It wasn’t until 2007 when a fan of Portnoy’s asked to design a website for the company that Barstool really began to take off. Following this the next nine years of the company saw immense growth under Portnoy, so much so that it attracted the attention of The Chernin Group whom in 2013 purchased 51% of the company. While the details of the deal were not announced, it was believed at the time to have been based off a 10-15 million dollar evaluation. Portnoy still kept creative control of the company, but he now had to answer to new CEO Erika Nardini. Oh and he also lives my current dream job traveling around the country eating pizza. One bite. Everybody knows the rules.
As I mentioned earlier Barstool despite its popularity is one of the most controversial media sites in the current day. I want to look in depth at what makes them such a lightning rod of a topic as well as what makes them so successful.
First and foremost is the image of barstool, which was best summarized by Stewie Griffin when he said “Oh look! News cameras! I’m gonna yell ‘Viva La Stool!’ Like a young white drunkard”. Basically, both Stoolies and Stoolie haters Barstool represents itself as a nationwide frat. Their iconic unapologetic and uncensored writing style is a staple of the company and I believe its part of the reason they resonate so strongly with their audience. During the rise of Barstool its important to note that a trend among media companies was to really step away from any opinions and to report bare-bone facts. Barstool took this philosophy and spun it on its head, bashing and screaming about anything from the corruptness of the NFL (including this iconic Roger Goodell clown photo)
to social drama with Johnny Manziel, or most recently with ex-contributor Michael Rapaport. As with most opinions, people get offended. Particularly in this day and age when the cast of characters who represents Barstool is basically a group of white frat guys. And while that criticism maybe legitimate, as it the tendency to refer to Barstool as misogynistic – the company persevered. This is because as much as we hate to admit it, a headline such as “Syracuse Absolutely Shuts Down Michigan State to Advance to Sweet 16” is a more appetizing headline then “Syracuse Beats Michigan State, Advances”. It’s unprofessional, it’s a bit mean and it’s definitely not status-quo – but it’s entertaining as all hell. Barstool was able to succeed because they kept up a consistent brand image, have established a core customer and have never tried to be anything they weren’t authentically passionate about. And if you disagree Barstool CEO has some advice for you, “If you don’t like it, don’t read it”.
Now no matter what your feelings are, I can almost guarantee you have knowingly or unknowingly used a Barstool catchphrase. I don’t know if Portnoy manufactures all of these himself, but what is certain is that Barstool has mastery over catchphrases. The most famous of these slogans is of course,
but the barstool crew has gone well beyond this. One liners such as “One bite everybody knows the rules” accompany my mind whenever I begin to chow down on food. Even the term “Stoolie” is just great in my opinion, and these inside jokes are very helpful for Barstool in keeping their cult entact.
Behind every great media empire is a cast of characters who works tirelessly to champion the free flow of information. Barstool certainly has this, but they also quite literally have a cast of very, very entertaining cast members. Portnoy is of course synonymous for his pizza reviews but other longtime contributors such as KFC (whom hosts a podcast in addition to live news sound-offs), Big Cat (podcast and Sirius XM show) and man of many talents Kmarko all help to keep the audience engaged. I could be wrong in stating this but I don’t feel many of Barstools audience members are often keeping up with the Kardashians – but they do love drama. That drama is more socially acceptable and hilarious with these guys, and they really do have a way of connecting with the audience and getting them emotionally engaged with their personal lives. Just check any of KFC’s posts following his recent scandal (he cheated on his pregnant wife) to find out how seriously Barstool fans take the character and personal lives of their favorite brand personalities. The cast is key in taking a satirical news entertainment and getting it to another, more emotionally attached level for Stoolies.
The last real factor of success for Barstool – and what inspired this post – is the vastness and diversity of the media company itself. Initially Barstool sports covered basically that, sports. As time has gone on though, the brand has immersed itself into an almost lifestyle like brand that one either strongly follows or strongly opposes. Barstool surprised me recently when I discovered that one of my favorite instagram pages “ICantEven” (which features dogs and animals doing the funniest things) instagrammed a picture of a dog with a SAFTB bandanna tied to its neck. Upon closer inspection I realized that the page was in fact run by Barstool, which led me on a search to discover many other non-directly labeled instagram pages as well as directly-linked ones such as Barstool game-time. These are two pages, one that revolves around cute animals and another that revolves around video games, that featured topics the original Barstool might have scoffed at. But through time and presumably careful planning Barstool was able to infiltrate topics I wouldn’t come close to associating with them. Honestly it’s impressive, and their diversity I believe helps them protect themselves from any individual scandal (which when you release the type of media they do, is probably not too far away).
I’d like to conclude my post by asking my audience their opinions on Barstool and their opinions on the Stoolie culture. I personally hated Barstool until I started actually reading their work, at which point I stopped viewing it as media and started viewing it as entertainment. While I certainly disagree with certain things the company does (such as the consistent thread of rating the newest sex school teacher- female’s only – the entertainment factor is just too good. Perhaps this kind of media should be shut down and is toxic for todays society, but I don’t know. There are lots, and lots of Stoolies. And that means that there are tons and tons of people who appreciate this kind of entertainment.