Barstool Sports and the NWHL.

Barstool Sports has had quite the history of interactions with leagues, from prolonged fights with the NFL through a rejected attempt to sponsor a NCAA bowl game to an actual partnership with NASCAR and to CEO Erika Nardini sitting on the WWE board. The latest league to see some Barstool discussion is the National Women’s Hockey League, which just kicked off its two-week bubble tournament in Lake Placid, NY.

Nardini had promoted the league on her social media accounts and had featured NWHL players on her podcast,  and some players (notably NY Riveters captain Madison Packer) had backed calls for Barstool to get involved with the league. That took criticism from many who cited past Barstool behavior, including social media harassment and racist remarks. Nardini put out a video Monday night “to the haters,” which featured screenshots of tweets criticizing Barstool from many female reporters and NWHL staff, and as has happened many times before, that led to Barstool fans going after those individuals. But that also led to several NWHL players (including Saroya Tinker of the Riveters) pushing back against Nardini’s video, and to the league itself putting out a critical statement Tuesday:

Beyond that statement, Marisa Ingemi reported that NWHL figures have made it clear Barstool will not be welcomed as a league owner:

It’s unclear if there would have been actual Barstool involvement here if Nardini hadn’t put out that video. Yes, there had been some talk about Barstool looking at the league, but as Ingemi notes there, that never progressed to a formal application. In any case, the video and the league’s response does seem to make it clear that an application now would not be considered. But this did lead to harassment of the reporters and staffers whose tweets Nardini spotlighted, and it also led to Nardini promoting the company’s own “Barfstool Sports” sweatshirts with “Haters are your marketing team”:

As AA’s Ben Koo wrote in June 2019 ahead of Real Sports’ feature on Barstool (which didn’t even turn out to be that strongly critical), Barstool’s approach to external criticism often involves rallying fans to their cause and then selling merchandise:

What Portnoy and Barstool have figured out is that any external attack on Barstool is good for business. We’ve seen this come about basically once a month for two years. Either Barstool wades into some shitstorm that was largely self-imflicted, or some editorial or journalistic effort paints the company in a negative light. Regardless, the alarm is sounded and the Stoolies circle the wagons, fending off the controversy of the week. When the smoke clears, nothing changes, and the dust-up leads to yet another spike of publicity, tribal identity, website and podcast traffic, and usually, revenue from sales of premium subscriptions and merchandise. 

So this fits right in with that.

[Barstool logo from Lever, NWHL logo from The Hockey Writers]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.