Dan Katz, better known to the Barstool audience as Big Cat, was not shy about airing his grievances with company brass on Friday morning. On his SiriusXM show The Yak, Big Cat took Dave Portnoy and Erika Nardini to task over not consulting him about the opportunity for Portnoy to interview President Trump. He went so far as to say the interview betrayed the foundation on which Barstool was built.
If you haven’t already watched the ten minute rant, you should. Actually, calling it a “rant” isn’t exactly fair. Yes, the guy is speaking from a place of emotion, but Katz isn’t unhinged. He makes valuable points that hosts and programmers should take to heart.
Let’s start with the big question. Is interviewing the President of the United States in the White House Rose Garden, mere months before an election, a betrayal of the Barstool brand’s identity?
Katz repeated the phrase “we can’t pretend now that we don’t do politics” multiple times during the segment. He said that when he first signed on with Barstool he was told that the brand wasn’t going to get into politics, that Dave Portnoy was only focused on comedy. Joe Biden’s campaign reached out to Barstool to have the former Vice President appear on Pardon My Take earlier this year, but Katz passed because he says he and co-host PFT Commenter always viewed their show and the Barstool brand as a place where people come to escape from those kinds of subjects.
Portnoy’s interview with Trump might change the way Barstool is viewed in the short term by some. Barstool’s founder and president definitely came off as very chummy with the President of the United States. Even without explicitly saying so, it does give the appearance of a tacit endorsement from the brand. That matters when a brand has built itself around the fierce loyalty of its fans.
As for longterm repercussions, that is kind of hard to say. Barstool is not Outkick. Even if there is a segment of the Barstool fanbase that wants to “own the libs,” it isn’t the brand’s entire identity.
The mistake Barstool made is allowing this to be in the Trump campaign’s hands now. If the President invokes Portnoy’s or Barstool’s name in speeches or ads, that is going to fundamentally change what Barstool is in the eyes of a lot of people. Forget that scenario. Let’s say Katz and PFT decide there are no restrictions anymore, and they schedule Joe Biden on Pardon My Take after all, that changes the perception of Barstool too. Rather than simply being “Stoolies,” some fans will feel the need to pick a side in a war of escalating internal political tension.
Big Cat also took Portnoy to task for not doing a tougher interview. “Politics are serious, man. You can’t do a political interview and not be serious,” he said.
To a certain extent that is true. If you’re John Oliver or Trevor Noah, you better be able to prove that you have the chops to keep up in a serious conversation about the subject you have built a career telling jokes about. But I don’t know that I entirely agree that politics is a subject that has to be approached the same way by a comedian as it does by Wolf Blitzer.
Look, while I have never had a sitting president on my show before, I did ask John McCain in 2012 if he thought he could medal in Olympic fencing if I gave him a year to do nothing but train. When he was making the rounds as a surrogate for Hillary in 2008, I did tell Bill Clinton that the first time I remembered hearing him speak was when I was 11. He showed up to the Alabama/Arkansas game in 1992 and was interviewed at halftime. My question to the former president was “Did you know that Alabama team was good enough to win a national championship?”.
If you aren’t someone that lives in the political world, not only is there room for humor and friendliness in these interviews, but I would argue not using those tools at all is a bigger betrayal to your audience than failing to demand answers for detention centers at the US/Mexico border. Those are horrible and do demand answers, but maybe Dave Portnoy is smart enough to know he’s not the one that is going to get them.
The final question I think is worth addressing is how does Big Cat move forward as a part of Barstool from here? In his rant, Katz made it clear that he was personally offended by having to learn of Portnoy’s visit to the White House on Twitter like the rest of the world. He said this is not how he ever expected the company to treat him after so many of the power players involved told him how valuable he was to the Barstool brand and promised that he was a partner in the decision making process. He shared that with Barstool fans, a group he is every bit as synonymous with as Portnoy.
As Big Cat sees it, there are only two explanations as for why Portnoy and Barstool CEO Erika Nardini didn’t consult him on the decision to interview President Trump, and both of them mean the same thing.
“One is they didn’t want to talk to me because I would probably be the only dissenting view, which means that when there’s tough decisions to be made and Dan might disagree, we just won’t ask him so we don’t have to hear his view. That means my opinion doesn’t matter. Or two, they just said straight up ‘his opinion doesn’t matter.’ Either way, my opinion does not matter at this company the way I thought it did 12 hours ago, and that’s the part I’m struggling with.”
At some point, everyone in this business questions where they stand with their employer. It’s why hosts and PDs leave for new jobs in new markets. It’s why GM’s leave to start advertising agencies. The equity and goodwill your company has built with you is only as good as how you are treated tomorrow.
I can’t say I know enough about what Barstool thinks of Dan Katz. I would assume as one of their most popular personalities, he is viewed as a valuable commodity. The Coach Duggs phenomenon should prove to any doubters, in or outside the company, that Katz’s audience will support virtually anything he does. But does Barstool believe it owes him more than anyone else on its roster? I don’t think that is a question with an obvious answer.
Long ago, when I was 15-years-old, I worked for Oldies 106.5 in Mobile, Alabama. My first program director was a British guy named Tim Rose. He told me a truth about radio that hits you like a ton of bricks at some point. Our job isn’t to play music or entertain the audience. Our job is to make sure they stick around long enough to hear the Kia commercial that plays at the bottom of the next stop set.
Barstool operates in the same way. It may be classified as a media company, but what it actually is is a marketing machine. Dave Portnoy and Erika Nardini don’t care what the content is exactly. All they care about is that it is good enough to engender a legion of Stoolies to buy t-shirts and drink mix and spend their money at Penn National casinos.
Given his own personal popularity and the juggernaut that is Pardon My Take, Dan Katz would be justified to think he is indispensable. It would make total sense for Stoolies to not think they ever have to picture a Barstool without Big Cat. But what if Barstool doesn’t see it that way?
It is totally feasible that the company may see its brand as well-established enough to survive the hit of losing its most popular content creator.
It is a bitter reality of this industry. As you build your own brand, you are also building the brand of your platform. Some talent outgrow their parent company, but not everyone does and sometimes the ones that don’t will surprise you.
So many of the criticisms that Dan Katz levied at Dave Portnoy and Barstool are fair. Portnoy’s interview with Donald Trump does fly in the face of what Barstool was founded on. It does compromise the image of the brand. Barstool is being used as a political pawn. The bosses do owe their most popular personality an explanation of what is about to happen before he has to read about it on Twitter. All of that can be true, but if enough MAGA types show up to buy Barstool t-shirts all because of one interview, the company doesn’t necessarily have to care.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?
Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.
The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.
In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?
We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?
Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:
Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN
ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.
The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.
Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.
Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.
“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”
Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.
“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?
“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”
Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.
Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.
The NFL Today – CBS
CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.
Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.
The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.
Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.
Fox NFL Sunday
The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.
Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.
Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.
Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.
Football Night in America – NBC
Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.
But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.
Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?
When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.
But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”
“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”
Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers
Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area
Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.
For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.
As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.
I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.
At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.
From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”
But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.
But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.
However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.
One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.
Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.
There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.
Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.
At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.
There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.