The BLOG: Culture

Barstool’s bold and brash approach pays off

For over a decade, Boston-area-based Barstool Sports has been able to navigate the highly competitive universe of sports media with what can only be described as haphazard brilliance. Originally started as a print freebie available on the corners of downtown Boston (of which I was a regular reader), has become major destination for all things stereotypically male; sports, attractive women, gambling and alcohol.

This not to say the staff and management of Barstool aren’t extremely talented. They have spawned copycats, protests and even admiration from pro athletes and coaches alike. Now they have set themselves apart with a weekday, internet-based, live talk show covering any topic that interests them.

Like a bad Halloween costume attempts to imitate a movie superhero, “The Rundown” takes on the shell of a show you would see on a broadcast network, however its participants are far more interesting performers. Recorded over Skype or a similar application, viewers experience a wonderful mix of lack of professionalism and errors too compelling to miss.

Anchored by company president Dave “El Prez” Portnoy – whose image occupies most of the screen’s real estate – we encounter a real-time version of your Facebook friend’s diatribe about the day’s headlines. There are non-stop insults, braggadocio and passion for the topics discussed. This is a far departure from the manufactured catch phrases and phony enthusiasm of their baby boomer counterparts on ESPN.

In spite of a loyal following across college campuses, sensitive millennials should be forewarned. “The Rundown” is not a “safe space.” Uninhibited by broadcast standards, the Barstool team regularly curses and ignores politically correct mores. They speak without a filter and pretentious notions anything they say has a lasting impact beyond immediate gratification.

And that is what what makes it work.

It’s chemistry. It’s art. It’s — as Dan “Big Cat” Katz would say — electric. Even when staff who have no business being in front of a camera are on the show, it is rescued by the immediate denigration of their poor performance.

Why is any of this important? Because on Jan. 7, Barstool Sports announced they have taken on a majority investor in Peter Chernin’s The Chernin Group. Chernin has a long and successful career in media and will undoubtedly give Barstool much needed infrastructure to expand and thrive.

The new media revolution is here. A democratization of technology has enabled tens of thousands of people to produce their own content and the cream is rising to the top. For years legacy media and nay sayers have poo-pooed Barstool and predicted their downfall. They have been wrong.

I look forward to seeing what The Chernin Group can do for Barstool and how traditional sports media reacts. However, like a bad movie based on a mediocre TV show, traditional sports media can manufacture the organic magic that has brought Barstool to the point of the most famous blog nobody knows about.

(And if you need a COO Peter and Dave, seriously give me a call. I’m actually qualified.)

Jeff Semon

Jeff Semon

Jeff Semon is a Business management consultant, former candidate for U.S. Congress and co-host of the Lincoln Review podcast.