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Are Barstool Sports and ESPN a Good Fit For Each Other?

Jason Barrett



To say that the inside of a sports media office is similar to the inside of a locker room would be a fair comparison. The language among colleagues can be colorful, egos get easily bruised, competitive juices are constantly flowing, clicks get formed behind the scenes, and if you operate in a place where other brands exist that don’t create sports programming, you may receive a few nasty looks, hear a couple of whispers and maybe even earn a call from the HR department. Inside these operations there are a lot of locker room programmers who question the company’s programming choices and feel they deserve to be consulted before anything gets added to their employer’s airwaves.

It’s one thing when individuals become jealous of each other over timeslots and paychecks or if passionate people debate and argue about various sports opinions, but the one line that should never be crossed is getting personal. The second you explore that territory, future conversations and relationships are terminated. Depending on your words and the people involved, it can even lead to physical assault. As important as sports, money, and an individual’s career might be, when you attack someone on a personal level, it rarely ends well.

On Monday night I saw Sam Ponder’s tweets about Barstool Sports and came away with the opinion that most people had, she wasn’t a fan of ESPN (her employer) adding Barstool’s personalities to the network’s programming schedule. Some questioned why the network allowed Ponder to criticize their newest partner when they’ve taken others like Bill Simmons and Tony Kornheiser to task for comments made about other network shows and anchors. To many on the outside, it seemed once again to be a case of double standards and inconsistency.


As I processed Ponder’s criticisms I wondered why she was so worked up over a few distasteful tweets from the past, especially over a weekly show that was set to air on the network at 1am ET on a Tuesday night. Once I dug in deeper though, I began to understand why.

I’ll be the first to admit, I was late to the Barstool party. When the brand first began to pick up steam a few years ago it seemed like a product built for the college crowd. Given that I was in my late-30’s at the time, I wasn’t their target audience. The content appeared to be a mixture of funny, juvenile, mindless, tasteless, and offensive, but clearly it had connected with the younger demographic.

In recent years, the company has maintained its original attitude while adding better programming. Along the way, they’ve created a major impact in the social space, becoming a great study for media brands when trying to understand social engagement. They’ve also dominated the iTunes charts with the “Pardon My Take” podcast, a program which is highly entertaining and features exceptional chemistry between Big Cat and PFT Commenter, plus the company has hired other opinionated and colorful personalities such as Dallas Braden, Michael Rappaport, and Pat McAfee. Not everything Barstool does is classy or tasteful but their batting average has been much better than it was a few years ago.

However, when you rewind back to 2014 and take a listen to the rant Dave Portnoy and Dan “Big Cat” Katz went on about Sam Ponder, it’s understandable why someone like Ponder would have a long memory and take issue with ESPN giving Barstool a larger platform. What Katz and Portnoy said about Ponder is indefensible, slanderous, and offensive and there’s no way to justify to any individual inside ESPN (who isn’t a fan of Barstool) why this is a good business decision if those type of personal attacks are going to be permitted, even if the content originates on another platform. That doesn’t mean Barstool’s staff isn’t entitled to feel or express those views, but by doing so, it can jeopardize their ability to extend professional relationships with companies like ESPN.

To ESPN’s credit, their management released a statement denouncing Barstool’s previous rant. ESPN EVP of programming Burke Magnus stated, “The comments about Sam Ponder were offensive and inappropriate, and we understand her reaction. She is a valued colleague and doing a great job for us. As stated previously, we do not control the content of Barstool Sports. We are doing a show with Big Cat and PFT, and we do have final say on the content of that show.

But that begs another question, why would ESPN work with a group that allows and encourages taking aim at its employees?

Whether you’re a fan of Ponder or not, she was elevated to replace Chris Berman on Sunday NFL Countdown so clearly the network values her contributions. The company also received complaints from other personalities who were turned off by the rumored partnership and still decided it was a worthwhile endeavor. Ponder doesn’t have a voice in the company’s programming decisions, nor should she, but ESPN should be taking into consideration the feelings of their employees before entering into business with groups who create an immediate divide in the locker room.

Ask yourself this, would you invite someone into your home who punched your father in the face and called your mother a whore? Would you give access to your bank account to someone with a history of stealing money? Would a team sign a player with a history of sharing personal and private information about coaches and teammates? That’s essentially what ESPN did in this case as seen thru the eyes of professionals like Ponder and others. To expect her or other colleagues with similar feelings to stay silent would be foolish.


I can’t fault anyone at ESPN who considers it painful, embarrassing, and confusing for their employer to team up with a company that has taken aim at them on a personal level, but let’s also be clear about one key thing – not everyone inside ESPN has a problem with Barstool. Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo have shown themselves to be fans of the brand, inviting members of the company to join them on radio and television, and new addition Katie Nolan has appeared on the brand’s programming as well.

Although I can understand Ponder’s disappointment and frustration with ESPN entering into business with Barstool, there’s a reason for it. Dave Portnoy and Erika Nardini have done a tremendous job growing Barstool Sports. It may not be your cup of tea but if you don’t think Barstool has seized an opening in the sports media landscape then you haven’t been paying attention. Some consider it low-brow entertainment but usually those who feel that way are mature fans above the age of 40. Like it or not, Barstool has tapped into the younger generation of sports fans in a deeper way than even ESPN has, similar to how Donald Trump has struck a nerve with supporters and critics alike. Keep in mind, they’ve created their success without full fledged support from radio, (SiriusXM eventually signed on) television, and print.

The interesting part of this conversation is whether or not Barstool is ready to become a bigger mainstream act. To do so, they’ll likely have to modify the type of content they’ve created which hardcore fans will deem “selling out”. But to secure bigger partnerships with brands like ESPN, FOX Sports, the NFL, MLB or major advertisers, it’s going to be nearly impossible to do that when personal shots are taken at others who you’re entering into business with.

Do you think ESPN is going to advance its relationship with the Barstool brand if that type of behavior continues? How do you think those high level conversations will go if the targets become Mike Greenberg, Stephen A. Smith or Michelle Beadle? Better yet, what if Bob Iger, John Skipper or Connor Schell were viciously attacked verbally the way Samantha Ponder was by Barstool? If you think Roger Goodell, Adam Silver or Rob Manfred are going to sign off on allowing NFL, NBA or MLB brands to align with a company that personally attacks them, guess again.

I understand that Barstool’s platform is independent of ESPN, and the network has no control over what happens on it, but it does have the final say in who it chooses to work with and feature on its radio and television stations and websites and social media platforms. Would The Undefeated hire and promote a writer who has an independent website and racist agenda? Hell no. Nor would it be wise of the company to ask their other employees to accept someone as a partner who represents the opposite of their personal and professional values.


This story will be fascinating to follow because Barstool has built its identity by being aggressive, unfiltered, unapologetic and sophomoric and that strategy has worked to perfection. Say what you want about Dave Portnoy’s approach, but he’s created real, edgy, funny, disturbing and emotionally moving content that dedicated fans don’t turn away from. The reason they’ve been a hit with their audience is because of their anti-establishment persona and a willingness to fight the system and stay true to themselves. There’s no better example of that then how Portnoy responded after Ponder put the company on blast on Twitter.




It may offend some but Barstool’s formula has proven to be successful without ESPN. To reach the next level though, where both parties can feel comfortable working together and advancing each other’s professional agendas, it’s going to require change. The two parties may intend to pursue marriage but divorce will follow quickly if the personal shots I heard fired in 2014 continue in 2017 and beyond, even if they’re taking place on independent platforms.

I don’t know if this is the best marriage for ESPN or Barstool, but I do understand why they need each other. Should the relationship reach the point where it gets extended down the line, there will be a lot of internal conflict and the rumblings you heard this week from Samantha Ponder will sound like church noise compared to future conversations.

The question Bristol executives must ask themselves is, is the price of future success worth it if it means having to sell your soul? Barstool has one to answer themselves, is playing nice with corporate America aka the establishment, worth it if it means having to adjust your identity? Each company has to look in the mirror, determine if they’re happy with what they see, and prepare themselves for surgery because their appearance will be altered the second they agree to extend this business relationship.

In the meantime, for those on the outside watching it all unfold, enjoy your popcorn.

Barrett Blogs

Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett




We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit

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Barrett Blogs

Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett




As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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Barrett Blogs

California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett




With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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