Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy's threats might boost the brand, but at what cost?

By August 14, 2019Advertising

Ever since Portnoy’s threats, Barstool Sports has received a multitude of mentions on social media. On Tuesday, “Barstool Sports” saw its mentions increase by 269 percent with more than 30,000 mentions, while “Portnoy” spiked at 43,000 mentions, a 6,200 percent increase over the norm, according to Brandwatch data. The sentiment around “Portnoy” is 51 percent positive, showing how divisive he is. 

Despite the attention, Portnoy’s threats can still land the company in legal trouble, no matter how “on-brand” the comments might be. 

Matt Weir, the lawyer who Portnoy called out, told Ad Age that any person could still make a claim against the company, whether they are affected by the unlawful behavior or not. Barstool Sports could fight back by saying it’s remaining on-brand, but would still need to prove that employees “have no subjective fear of reprisal” for wanting to unionize. He added that Barstool Sports employees who might want to unionize could see this as a good opportunity to speak out. Forming unions at media companies has become a common, often necessary, thing in such a tempestuous industry. In the past few years, New York Magazine, Gawker, Vice Media, Vox Media and BuzzFeed News have all unionized in the name of workers’ rights and better working conditions. 

“It’s a dangerous game,” he says. “Is the brand exposure and the impressions on a single day in August worth the possibility, however small, that employees might not be in on the joke, even if you assume they are?” 

Portnoy’s comments also have the potential to alienate the very athletes the site covers, experts say. After all, every major sport Barstool Sports writes about is unionized. “Barstool’s top podcasts all have tremendous access to professional athletes. Athletes who are in unions,” says Robert Seidman, founder of sports media podcast SportsTVRatings. “I do wonder if the attention is worth it.”

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