The King Of Social Media Is Here To Stay.
Go out to a bar and you won’t be able to swing a bat without hitting someone who’s a fan of Barstool Sports. A lot of people are. I am. I’m pretty sure my Grandma has fallen down a rabbit hole of viral videos corralled by their Instagram or Facebook pages. The company has fans at every age level, every high school and college in America and most likely abroad as well. You ask anyone if they’ve seen a video of some drunk girl venturing onto an elevated surface, only to tumble down in a heap of blonde hair and denim, they’ll show you a Barstool page. With this in mind, there’s no doubt that Barstool Sports is on the verge of becoming a full-fledged media conglomerate if you wouldn’t consider them one already.
But they’re called Barstool “Sports,” I’m not hearing mention of any sports.
My answer to that claim would be that their brand is based on sports, something that is so deeply rooted in American culture, an aspect that consistently brings out the best, worst, and the absolute degenerate nature of some people, that the transition between sports page to a media-based, content producing giant is essentially seamless. However, without one man at the helm, none of this would be possible. And as much as it may pain some people to say it, you have to admit that without a brazen leader, a face that screams Boston sports junkie or someone who only speaks about day-trading stocks, the company would not be on the verge of having their hand in the cookie jar of every type of media outlet, pushing their influence right up against every celebrity injecting their lips with silicone and each TikTok star shaking ass on the timeline. So why do so many people, big wigs at other companies and politicians alike, the internet mob, all share a distaste for Dave Portnoy? The man who calls himself “El Presidente” isn’t cared for by many people. And in a way, the question might be better served as this: what is Portnoy doing right, that so many others just don’t seem to understand?
It would be a fair assumption that being king of a company infused with meatball sports fans is pretty easy. Just sit back and let the content make itself. Watch them collapse at each tragic loss or cheer when they manage to finally secure their parlay bet. Even with those original, diehard sports fans still on Barstool’s roster, their expansion over the past three years has been immense. And as I stated above, Barstool Sports is no longer just about sports and those fans, they’ve branched out to garner the interest of movie buffs, music fans, wildlife experts, travel junkies, older and younger generations, all amongst a multitude of other fan-laden mediums. The man even managed to secure an interview with the President of the United States at one point.
Erika Nardini was definitely a big part of Portnoy and the company’s expansion. Nardini coming on board allowed for one necessary business decision to be made. Unleash Dave Portnoy from the hindering shackles of worrying about the CEO issues of a company, and treat him like a mercenary, running around from influencer to influencer, content creator to beguiled fan, spreading his knowledge of the field and bringing them along for the ride with the promise of internet fandom.
Nardini and Portnoy make for a two-headed monster (in the sincerest of terms) at Barstool, and truly, the company lives and breathes through the personality of their leader. His personality may be off-putting, seen multiple times belittling employees and flaunting his successes through different livestreams as he lounges in a pool. Yet his beginning has the makings of a true underdog story, one that people would find themselves cheering for rather than looking at with scorn. Portnoy slung newspapers around. He set up Barstool’s first office in a Boston suburb, all before cracking an industry that is hard to establish themselves in at an individual level, let alone build an entire brand. These humble beginnings surely surround a person that people should be rooting for, right?
I don’t know Dave Portnoy. I’ve seen enough of him to know that his personality—the brash, in your face, take-no-shit style—doesn’t necessarily generate support upon first view.
And yet, in an age where people are cancelled and shunned for reasons only the comments section can explain, Portnoy’s brand is one that he has stayed true to. When the internet storms in with digital torches and pitchforks, he owns up to his wrongdoings. That alone is worth commending. And perhaps it’s the fact that the company continues to consistently grow and flourish while so many others are swallowed up or absorbed, that makes people turn their hateful gaze towards Portnoy and his private jet, a house on the water in Miami. (All these descriptions of Portnoy aren’t helping his case.)
One of those other companies is ESPN. They’ve been Barstool’s most prominent enemy for some time. However, without the powerful backing of the network’s Disney parents guiding them along, I see a future where ESPN is dormant, being abandoned for the likes of the much more personable Barstool.
Perhaps that’s where ESPN is losing ground. To people like Portnoy and his ever-growing roster of creators and influencers that are left to run wild much like himself. ESPN hasn’t yet cracked the code of allowing their talented staff to be fully themselves like Portnoy is and allows for. And again, in an age where inclusion and movements calling for self-expression and acceptance are everywhere, media companies like ESPN that have been around for some time need to take a page out of their playbook. At this rate, they need to adapt or die.
But is that really why so many people dislike him? Because he’s unapologetically himself? When I asked myself this question, I looked back and wondered why I haven’t ever been a full fan of Portnoy while enjoying a majority of the content that he rules over. The answer may be convoluted, or it may be as simple as it’s hard to like someone who continuously succeeds, pivoting and spreading his tendrils across all media platforms to the point where Barstool hasn’t dipped their toe into anything but an actual network (which I predict will soon change). Sure, Dave Portnoy has lost weight from his sizable beginning. He’s a leathery sort of tan now with quaffed hair and pants so tight he must have his own assistants at the ready just to help him get them on. Even with all of these new changes that money so often brings, he continues to cultivate success in a world and field that is utterly volatile. One where careers blossom, flourish, and then detonate all within the span of a day.
And yet, as Portnoy scours the globe taking bites of pizza, he’s becoming even more aligned with a folklore hero, a person who will never be forgotten in the annals of internet history.
Amidst the pandemic, Portnoy and Barstool raised millions for small businesses with the Barstool Fund. Even with the advancements of his personal life, he still manages to align himself with the little guy, the many men and women of middle-class America. It’s this art of transcendence across the field of higher, middle, and lower class that amazes me. His ability to invoke support from both sides of the political plane while seemingly keeping cancel culture at bay. Portnoy elicits such a certain ethos, an emotion, in people that it’s either filled with a Karen-esque hate, or the love and admiration of a hero they’ve only seen on TV.
I don’t share the same level of adornment for Portnoy as many others do. If I had written this article in the last year or two, the emphasis would’ve been on why I hate Dave Portnoy. I understand the dislike. He plays both sides of the coin in a way that nobody else in the world of media and content has been able to grasp, and he does so with incredible execution.
I don’t think people understand that. This is a game, and he’s cracked the code. To him, any news is good news. All publicity, from being condemned for trashing unions to saving small businesses by the thousands further promotes himself, his brand, and the company he’s built.
Nevertheless, what I’ve come to terms with is that sometimes people hate what they don’t understand. Call it a quick decision. Call it the brain lashing out like a wild animal trapped in a corner, the only way people often know how to react.
There are always going to be people who shit on even the most minute successes in life, so it only makes sense that one man receives the amount of flack that he does and will no doubt continue to receive. Portnoy is shameless. He’s an unedited version of himself. People envy that and haven’t understood that this open-ended version of oneself appeals to so many. Many wish they could act how they want with seemingly little to no consequences. And as Portnoy continues his success, so does Barstool Sports.
Love him or hate him, and I feel many will opt for the latter, Dave Portnoy is here to stay.