Barstool Sports is now worth $450 million.
It also has a trash reputation.
Philly-area gaming corporation Penn National recognized the controversial bro blog as one of the nation’s largest sports media companies, a spokesperson said, and purchased a $163 million stake in the brand. That all went down despite knowledge of Barstool’s documented cyber-bullying culture, according to the company.
“We have done our due diligence and are confident that [Barstool Sports] understands the importance of our new relationship and has the right guardrails in place to ensure that their comments won’t negatively reflect on PENN or the gaming industry in general,” Penn National Senior VP Eric Schippers told Billy Penn via email.
That means, Schippers said, no more “comments that might be deemed as harassment or discrimination of women or minorities, for example.”
About a week before the acquisition announcement, the National Labor Relations Board found that Barstool founder Dave Portnoy broke the law with anti-union tweets threatening to fire employees for unionizing.
Portnoy was forced to take down the messaging as part of a settlement.
Barstool’s persistent and well-documented culture of sexual harassment, racism and general misogyny has not stopped the digital media publisher from expanding its footprint in the Philadelphia area.
In addition to the Penn National acquisition, Barstool recently acquired a popular podcast by Philly’s own Wallo267 and Gillie Da Kid called “Million Dollaz Worth of Game.”
Business at the South Philly pizzeria Angelo’s exploded with lines down the block after Portnoy gave a rave review of the restaurant this past November. (Portnoy is opening his own pizza spot in NYC.)
Barstool also maintained a relationship with former Flyers center Jeremy Roenick, who this month lost his job as an NBC sports analyst because of lewd comments he made on a Barstool Sports podcast about sleeping with a woman colleague.
Fostering a culture of sexual harassment
Barstool is facing a lawsuit from a young mother in Michigan after the site posted a video of the woman and her 9-year-old son with a suggestive caption this past December. The video has since been removed but its original URL remains: Mommy trying to find a new daddy.
“Bro your mom is an attention whore and she’s a real whore on top of it,” is an example of some of the comments she received.
It’s also a look into the type of content Barstool posts and the questionable following the brand attracts.
Penn National, the Wyomissing-based gaming company that owns about 50 casinos, race tracks and online gaming platforms around the country, seems to have some idea of Barstool’s antics.
“Over the course of 16 years, Barstool Sports has certainly made some inappropriate and/or offensive comments, similar to Howard Stern or other types of ‘shock jock’ personalities,” Schipper said in an email.
Barstool, founded in 2003, has often touted its woman CEO, Erika Nardini, who joined in 2016, when publications lodge allegations of gross misogyny and sexual harassment. The website has an arm dedicated to women, called simply “Chicks,” and in an email to NBC, Portnoy said Barstool was “one of the most progressive job environments” its women employees have ever been in.
Some examples of the comments or behavior that’ve garnered attention:
- Portnoy was asked by Boston police to remove a zoomed-in image of Tom Brady’s naked toddler son in a blog post about the size of the child’s genitals.
- A regularly published faux fashion blog series by a writer named Nate features zoomed in images of scantily clad women’s body parts.
- Full blog posts dedicated solely to the use of the word “c*nt.”
- Portnoy routinely engages in ongoing feuds with journalists, especially women) who challenge Barstool, like ESPN’s Sam Ponder.
Being nasty online = $$$$
While Barstool’s content might not be enough to warrant more than an eyebrow raise, the way its disciples galvanize the brand’s following is to attack people online.
Barstool writers have been known to doxx and share personal information about anyone who speaks out against them, tapping into the internet’s love of outrage with their hefty social media audiences. Victims have been inundated with phone calls, lewd comments and death threats.
Portnoy himself called on his more than 1 million followers to engage in harassment against women who challenge his brand.
One damning Daily Beast article recounts many more details. Much of the most egregious content, like a 2010 post where Portnoy wrote, “Even though I never condone rape, if you’re a size 6 and you’re wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserve to be raped right?” has been deleted.
Not so for this Portnoy piece from 2015 that called for demonstrators protesting against police brutality to be publicly executed.
None of this has been enough to keep the brand from expanding exponentially. In 2016, Barstool was valued at less than $20 million when it was partially acquired by Chernin Digital Group. In 2018, the company was said to be worth $100 million.
Penn National’s 36% acquisition, which shot Barstool’s value to $450 million, will expand to a 50% stake with another $62 million investment over the next three years.
In a video announcing the Pennsylvania deal, Portnoy, who goes by “El Presidente,” stood at a podium on the moon and said Barstool is poised to become the biggest gambling company in the country.
He added an echo of his brand’s vicious reputation.
“People will rue the day that they passed on us,” Portnoy said. “Anybody who doubts us will pay the price in spades.”