In December, Barstool founder Dave Portnoy announced that the company was working on a premium service, which he said was a top priority of Barstool’s parent company Chernin. Now, the project has a timeframe.
In a podcast with The Big Lead’s Ryan Glasspiegel published Thursday, Portnoy said the premium service will arrive this spring, while reiterating that “for the most part” everything that is currently accessible for free will remain so.
“That is coming,” Portnoy said of the premium service. “It’ll probably come April, May timeframe. For the most part, nothing that was free in the past will suddenly be behind the paywall. As an example of something that may come, the original KFC Radio was a podcast was a podcast that was Big Cat, KFC and Feitelberg. With the advent of Pardon My Take, Big Cat didn’t really have time to do both. So something like a KFC Classic, where once a month those three get together for a KFC Radio old-school style, that will appear on the premium. So it will be new things that we weren’t doing before.”
Portnoy acknowledged that not all of Barstool’s readers would be thrilled about the new paywall, saying, “It is a priority of Chernin, so it’s something that I’m sure not all of our fanbase is gonna love, but it’s coming whether they want it or not.”
Asked what kind of content premium subscribers will get, Portnoy replied, “everything.”
“It’s going to be a combo of everything,” he said. “It could be you get a discount on merchandise. You can get an extra podcast a month from your favorite podcast. It could be videos that didn’t exist before, maybe behind-the-scenes. It will be a mishmosh of a bunch of stuff.”
In some ways, a Barstool premium service was inevitable, especially with a larger company like Chernin involved. Even for a massively popular and rapidly growing site, advertising revenue only goes so far. Media companies have tried for two decades to survive on digital ads, with limited success, and the birth of The Athletic and other similar sites and the expansion of paywalls at numerous prominent outlets signal that the industry is ready to lean more heavily on subscriptions. If readers/listeners/viewers are willing to pay, outlets might as well take advantage.
However, the kind of “freemium” model Portnoy has described requires a delicate balance. Throw too much content behind the paywall and non-subscribers will rebel. Skimp on premium content and no one will subscribe. Portnoy seems to be well aware of this dynamic, given how strenuously he has emphasized that premium content will be, as he said in December, “extra shit.”
On Glasspiegel’s podcast Thursday, Portnoy also addressed last fall’s Barstool Van Talk saga, in which ESPN and Barstool partnered on a new show, only to have ESPN pull out after one episode. Asked whether he would do anything differently, Portnoy said that actually the controversy actually “helped more than it hurt.”
“It invigorated our fanbase,” he said. “Controversies like that make our fans like us more, they make us hate ESPN more. It makes us stronger in the long run. I’m glad we went through it.”
That said, Portnoy blamed ESPN for failing to grasp what Barstool was about and for failing to take the partnership seriously.
“ESPN always was wary of doing this deal,” he said. “I sat in meetings where I thought they were disrespectful to the brand. I didn’t understand why we were sitting there. Frankly, I had major second thoughts about it, but for the benefit of Dan and PFT and benefit overall of the brand [I did it]. But it was a partner who was uneasy with us from the beginning. I ignored my gut instinct.”