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If Black Lives Matter, Dave Portnoy Must Be Cancelled

“In a defining time for racism in America, Barstool Sports — and partners such as NASCAR and Penn National — risk permanent brand damage if they don’t separate immediately from the site’s hatemongering founder, Dave Portnoy.”

Jay Mariotti

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To describe Dave Portnoy as despicable only skims the word choices. He’s a hatemonger and a sicko, no other way to put it, and after taking five showers in stooping to write about him, I am tempted to hire a killer shark to devour his every body part, including a penis if he has one, recalling his career-propelling stunt of posting naked photos of Tom Brady’s then-2-year-old son.

He has used the N-word liberally, approved of blackface costumes and said Colin Kaepernick bears a strong resemblance to Osama bin Laden, referring to the quarterback-turned-activist as “an ISIS guy … Throw a head wrap on this guy, he’s a terrorist.’’ These glimpses of sub-humanity were from 2016 videos that have resurfaced, one in which he belts out Ja Rule’s “Livin’ It Up’’ thusly: “To all my n——-s I’ve been living it up.’’ This is the nutbag who referred to ESPN’s Sam Ponder as “a f—— slut’’ and urged her to “sex it up and be slutty.’’ You wonder what this creep does and says on an hourly basis, an experience from which I’m saved as someone who ignores his digital operation, Barstool Sports.

As always, Portnoy excuses his racism as comedy and satire, a copout Charles Manson could have tapped, I suppose. Like other megalomaniacs, he is too far gone for help. But what disturbs me is how media companies and sports leagues have embraced his brand of fungal disease without regard for the stench they’re inheriting. Peter Chernin, a film producer and former Fox TV executive, enabled Portnoy by buying majority control of Barstool in 2016. ESPN, in another hazy stab during the John Skipper era, tried a late-night show called “Barstool Van Talk’’ that lasted one episode following a Bristol revolt. Inevitably, a gambling company chased the same crude-dude demographic, with Penn National Gaming Inc. spending $163 million in January for a 36 percent stake.

DiBenedetto Finishes 21st at Las Vegas Sunday Night

Then there’s hypocritical NASCAR, which spent millions last year on a Barstool marketing partnership and only bought itself a perception crisis at the worst possible time. The circuit took a historic step in separating from its racist past in the recent drivers’ march that supported black racer Bubba Wallace, yet the relationship with Portnoyism continues, somehow, which is akin to tying a noose in Wallace’s garage. Here was NASCAR’s statement after the death of George Floyd: “While our sport has made progress over the years, there remains much work to be done and we fully embrace our responsibility to help bridge the racial divide that continues to exist in our country. We must do better, and our commitment to promoting equality and inclusion continues and will never waver.’’

Except when keeping a business pact with a racist.

There is no more obvious conclusion, along with water being wet and the sun being warm, than this: Portnoy should be immediately removed from the company he founded before Barstool is tagged permanently as a racist shop. And while I sense he’ll need to be strapped to a gurney and sedated while hauled away by 10 men in white suits, perhaps a company coup finally was set in motion Thursday against the man-child who claims he’s “uncancellable.’’ A Barstool host who calls himself PFT Commenter, from a show called “Pardon My Take,’’ ripped Portnoy for not considering the company’s minority employees when he refused to apologize this week  — “I’m not gonna bend the knee,’’ he said — for his past comments.

“When I saw that clip of ignorant and racist comments from the 2016 Colin Kaepernick rundown, I, like a lot of my colleagues, was mad and embarrassed,’’ wrote the PFT character about the videos, which included shameful behavior from Barstool hosts Dan Katz and Kevin Clancy. “To put it bluntly, it’s especially f——- -up that our black coworkers have been unfairly put in the position of choosing to either a) accept racist remarks, or b) publicly fighting with their boss.’’

This followed a podcast by some of those minority employees — led by former NFL lineman Willie Colon, host of Barstool’s 2Biggs podcast — who lashed out at Portnoy. They titled the podcast N.I.G.G.E.R., short for “Now It’s Gonna Get Extremely Real.’’ Said Colon: “I said to Dave, for the people who work here and work for you, we’re kind of offended by it, so when you throw your middle fingers up at the cancel culture, you’re really throwing your middle fingers up at us. And he was like, `I hear you, but I have a bigger following than you, I write your checks, and the people who support me and Barstool help me write your checks, so f—— eat a dick.’ ‘’

https://twitter.com/2BiggsPod/status/1278460574440009728?s=20

For a nanosecond, I thought they might be duping us in a scam for more Barstool attention. But I don’t think so. Publicly, company executive Erika Nardini refuses to condemn Portnoy, her bread and butter, tweeting this week, “Change doesn’t come from cancellation, and it will never come from everyone having f—— consensus all the time. It comes from difficult times and strong people who see new opportunities and take risks.’’ But privately, if she’s smart, she will feel the tempest in her house and find a bulldozer to remove the toxic waste. When the subject is race, amid this country’s most heated year of racial tension in decades, no one is play-acting. This is all very real and all very dangerous.

“I don’t know exactly how to fix this short of making Willie Dave’s boss,’’ wrote the PFT guy, “but I do know that what’s happened over the last four days is not going to work in the long term.’’

NASCAR isn’t commenting. Nor is Penn National — my two email inquiries went unanswered. So, their silence will be interpreted as a tacit acceptance of All Things Portnoy, which means those companies aren’t as committed to stamping out racism as they claim, such as Penn National’s stated vow to “stand united against hate, racism, violence and intolerance of any sort and salute all the peaceful warriors and protesters on the front lines of social injustice making their voice heard.’’ Where the company erred was allowing Portnoy to have all editorial control over content, thus nullifying supposed “guardrails’’ prohibiting “language that encourages underage gambling, illegal bets, or comments that might be deemed as harassment or discrimination of women or minorities, for example.”

They sold out to a madman, a compromise that should be known by people of all races when they visit Penn National’s 41 gaming and racing properties in 19 states and live betting properties in six states — Barstool Sports book app included. One reason for the sellout: Portnoy has had such a hypnotic hold on his “Stoolies’’ sheep — even as a pandemic day trader — that Penn National stock jumped 15 percent after he dropped the name on CNBC’s “Mad Money’’ last month. Never mind the workforce that Penn National could have salvaged without the Barstool investment; after furloughing 26,000 employees in April, the company filed notice it will lay off 233 people next month at its corporate offices. The executives sure love that stock bump … but for how much longer?

Penn National Gaming on Twitter: "Today we rang the bell. #NASDAQ… "

Who does Portnoy think he is, Warren Buffett?

“I’m better than he is. That’s a fact,’’ he said, even after being banned from E*Trade for a curious June 10 transaction.

I wonder what those aforementioned “peaceful warriors’’ would do to Portnoy if he stepped into a Black Lives Matter protest. By comparison, the killer shark might look tame. When activist/commentator Jemele Hill drew attention to his past videos, he mocked “cancel culture’’ and tried to justify his incendiary words by blaming societal shifts. “I’ve been doing this for two decades. I’ve made fun of every group of people, every race, every creed, every culture — you name it, we’ve made jokes about it,” he said in a video. “So if the No Fun Club, if the cancel culture wants to go back blog by blog, video by video, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, decade by decade and comb through everything we’ve ever f—in’ said and done, yeah, you’re gonna find a few jokes that missed the mark, that things if they are said today, you’d be like, `How’d they f—in’ say this? What are they, idiots?’ But times change, sensitivities change, cultures change. When you’ve been doing it as long as we have, things f—in’ change!”

That much is true. Societies do evolve for the better, the wiser and the fairer, leaving behind the cavemen. I just wonder, in a 2020 media context, why anyone interested in sports, regardless of demographic, would listen to this trash and not opt for a cooler, more enlightened host such as Jalen Rose or Colin Cowherd. Or even Pat McAfee, who has Barstool tendencies but was wise to cut the cord for more mainstream media pursuits.

Barstool Sports Founder Takes Over "Call Her Daddy" Instagram Amid ...

Portnoy tends to retaliate via targeted harassment, meaning my social media sites might be bombarded by the same cretin followers who pelt other critics. But maybe not. If Stoolies must decide between Barstool and Portnoy in a coup situation, I think Van Halen wins. David Lee Roth always can be replaced by a tamer Sammy Hagar.

Besides, I am not the story. The story is why companies in position to cancel Portnoy prefer to keep feeding the monster. “Whenever you try to cancel us, and do these movements that pop up once every couple years, it only makes us stronger,” he said. “Normal people only want an escape for a couple f—king seconds from this f—ked-up world, and that’s all we’re trying to do. And it just makes them like us more. … Keep trying to cancel us. We’ll just keep growing stronger. And when you’re miserable and dead and f—king off doing your own thing, in the next decade, we’ll still be here, doing us, and you’ll still be losing sleep about it. That’s just how it goes. You see this mug? Ain’t going anywhere.”

The killer shark is thinking otherwise. So is Willie Colon.

BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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BSM Writers

Radio Row Is One of The Worst Weeks For Our Listeners

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.

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From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.

Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.

It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.

It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.

It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!

It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.

But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.

Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™

And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.

It stinks.

Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.

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BSM Writers

What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?

“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”

Demetri Ravanos

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Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.

How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts. 

Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.

“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”

Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!

Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media

She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.

“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”

Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.

“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”

Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.

TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.

I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.

“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”

That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.

Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.

“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.

“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”

What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content? 

I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?

“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”

Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer. 

Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.

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