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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Viva: Barstool Turns 19


Barstool Sports celebrated its 19th anniversary on August 27.

“Barstool Sports is the best company to work for as a content creator,” Jersey Jerry, best known for being a fanatic of the Pittsburgh Steelers, told The Messenger. “Not only do they allow you to be yourself and create whatever type of content you want, they also have unlimited PTO time.”

The entertainment media empire built its early brand on a “common man” set of principles that prioritized all things sports betting. It’s remained strong on this front, with Penn National Gaming swooping in to acquire its 36% stake in the company for $136 million in 2020. 

What happened between the 2003 debut of the outlet’s first print issue and the digital beast it’s grown into today – one that’s cornered the humor, lifestyle and pop culture market – is thanks to many. But it all starts with the relentless and paramount brains behind the 21st century-defining mega operation: “El Presidente,” David Portnoy.

(Courtesy of: Barstool Sports)

The Common Man

The Boston-bred, University of Michigan alum spent four years at the Yankee Group IT firm before breaking free from the clutches of “cube life” at age 26. In doing so, he subsequently inspired a King’s ransom of eager followers to do the same with his crowning innovation. 

In the early days, Portnoy and company kept Barstool’s reach hyperlocal to the Boston area – going door to door in an Astro Van handing out free newspapers. Recruiting models to become cover girls eventually helped them start selling ads, and papers in general. Soon enough, the paper wasn’t just Portnoy writing as himself and under a slew of pseudonyms. Unpaid contributors were seduced by the unexpected glamor they were able to experience when Portnoy began hosting events to introduce original “Stoolies” to article penners-turned-future bloggers.

As the brand gained in popularity, “March Madness” meetups evolved into off-the-rails college “Blackout Tours.” Suddenly, a sports enterprise was not just that, or a T-Shirt company. Or a pop-up party ever on the run. Simply, it was a way of life for people to escape traditional models- just like Portnoy did when he started Barstool with nothing but his drive and an undying affinity for banter with the boys.

Back then, and even more so now, what’s proved as Barstool’s ultimate X-factor: the ability for readers to place faces to every name offering the hottest takes in all water cooler fodder across the land. What’s more: Portnoy’s all-immersive, in-your-face style, and those he’s fostered to become provocateurs cut from the same “brick by brick” cloth, creates the sense that these faces are your friends, your family. Shattering the walls between talent and the audience meant this print newspaper wouldn’t just translate well in the Internet age.

It meant it would take over the Internet and never miss a chance to remind you, either.

Portnoy “clowning” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’ in 2017. (NBC)

Despite Portnoy’s model of brash and bold to a fault inviting many controversies, this didn’t scare off The Chernin Group from signing up for a 51% stake in 2016. This partnership subsequently brought the company public, with headquarters relocated to the heart of The Big Apple. The tristate, then National expansion, has since transformed Barstool into the modern-day hub for young and unfiltered comedic personalities. Consequently, they have supplanted a half-century stalwart like Saturday Night Live, as the NBC variety show has steered more politically correct in recent years.

“There is nothing that this company can’t do,” CEO Erika Nardini said on ‘Mad Money’ in 2018.

“Ever since I was like 7 or 8, running around the house and in and around the Town Huntington with the camcorder I stole from my dad, I’ve loved creating video content. Later on in high school when I wanted to start taking it seriously, I knew there weren’t a ton of opportunities for an aspiring comedy filmmaker. SNL in whatever capacity was the early dream. But then in college I discovered Barstool,” said Michael Angelo, 31, of Cold Spring Harbor and a Cornell University graduate. Angelo is currently a video editor making his way up the senior producing chain at the company that first brought him into the fold in February 2020. 

“The silliness and the irreverence to authority was intoxicating and I knew that’s where I wanted to end up to try to take a shot at being successful in this industry,” he added. “Took me about 10 years after that to get my shot, but it’s been worth it. Barstool to me always represented a place where unrestricted creativity is allowed to flow, for better and for worse. I just really appreciate having the chance to test my own creative output at a company like this.”

Beyond Portnoy

Barstool Sports blew up in 2016 after Erika Nardini beat out 70 men to become their first CEO.

Rough ‘n Rowdy, an amateur boxing contest held in West Virginia, was purchased by Barstool Sports in 2017. Portnoy announced the news during one of his renowned Emergency Press Conferences entitled, “Barstool Is In the Boxing Business.” As promised, Rough ‘n Rowdy quickly expanded, featuring videos of fighters prepping for the event, social media teases and more. 

One Bite Pizza Reviews began in March of 2017, when Portnoy first reviewed Town Spa Pizza in Stoughton, Massachusetts. A rookie at the time, Portnoy didn’t follow his notable rules: no score can be a “perfect 10,” whole numbers are “rookie scores,” and of course, “one bite, everybody knows the rules.” But, it’s not a literal statement. “One bite” is just a catchphrase, and Portnoy then takes multiple bites of the slice, as part of the bit.

(Courtesy of: Dave Portnoy)

What helped bring a greater female audience to Barstool?

Two raunchy young ladies, Alexandra Cooper and Sofia Franklyn, started the “women’s locker-room conversation podcast” Call Her Daddy in 2018. After just two months of podcasting, the duo achieved over 2 million downloads. Barstool soon bought CHD, but after two successful years, the pair had a nasty breakup. 

Cooper claimed Franklyn did none of the work, she just showed up to record the podcast. Franklyn claimed she was heavily involved. Franklyn declined Portnoy’s offer to pay her more, and Cooper secretly accepted the offer. It was now up to Cooper to run the podcast solo. 

In September of last year, Cooper landed a $60 million deal with Spotify, stating her podcast would exclusively be on the streaming service, making her the first female podcast with the most extensive offer. While Cooper isn’t with Barstool anymore, her merchandise is still a part of the company that gave her fame.

From KFC Radio, to the No. 1 sports podcast, Pardon My Take, Chicks in the Office, Fore Play, Spittin’ Chiclets and every other major draw in between, the company never seems to run out of fresh talent to introduce to listeners. They have proven to constantly roll out new audio-based content while rarely ever dismantling podcasts that feature pioneers of the platform who helped Barstool move away from radio entirely in 2021. 

(Courtesy of: Apple Podcasts)

The hottest new podcast is Mean Girl Pod, hosted by the brunette-blonde duo Jordyn Woodruff and Alex Bennett. From having honest conversations about friendship, mental health and romantic relationships, the midwestern mean girls of Barstool aren’t actually all that mean. Bennett is also the latest Rough ‘n Rowdy winner, demolishing her opponent en route to earning the right to call herself  “the greatest.” 

Tiko Texas, a contestant on the recently-concluded second season of the company’s reality web series Surviving Barstool, is an “OG” stoolie. Kevin “KFC” Clancy and Tiko went back and forth on Twitter in 2015. After gaining recognition by Portnoy, she became an honorary stoolie. It wasn’t until last year that Tiko Texas became an official stoolie. 

“A man like Dave Portnoy cannot be stopped, flaws or not, he’s worked his A– off and you always get the authentic out of him. He works the hardest of us all, just to give us a chance to reap the benefits if we can also work hard,” Tiko Texas told Messenger Papers in an exclusive interview. “The company grew 19 years ago from just a paper to an incredible media powerhouse that have made superstars.”

(Courtesy of: Tiko Texas, pictured right)

What started as a bro’s den became one of the world’s most significant sports enterprises, with over 50 brands in the mix. This empire continues to grow, inspire and evolve at the hands of a female CEO and El Presidente. 

Adds Tiko, “Barstool means community. Barstool means acceptance. Barstool means freedom. Barstool means change. Barstool is now, and Barstool is forever.” 

(Courtesy of: Barstool Sports)