Get your popcorn ready. Or don’t, because all of this will be predictable and pretty derivative.

Barstool Sports is going to be featured in an upcoming segment on HBO’s Real Sports (Awful Announcing has learned the correspondent is Soledad O’Brien)  That’s interesting, right? If you’re a Barstool fan, or just want to see the company burn, you’ll probably want to see this, right?

Ryan Glasspiegel chronicled how various HBO personalities have been discussing the upcoming feature on various platforms, but added a nugget from Dave Portnoy, who now thinks that the feature is going to be a “hit piece”.

Barstool’s founder Dave Portnoy opened up the discussion on the topic by saying he has “become increasingly more distraught” about what he predicts will be a “full-blown hit piece.”

Portnoy says that the HBO reporter followed him around the office and accompanied him to a pizza review and that everything turned when he and Barstool CEO Erika Nardini went in for interviews and it turned into a several-hour grilling session. He adds that he went into it thinking the piece would be positive, but that his interview was “not positive … this is going to be a debacle.” He went on to say that his spot was done without make-up, and that they seemed to want him sweating and looking like Richard Nixon.

My knee jerk reaction to this was…

  • Excitement to see Real Sports bring their award winning journalism into covering in the sports media world, and particularly Barstool
  • How in the fucking world could Portnoy or anyone at Barstool not see this from a mile away?

[NYC] – February 15, 2011: Portraits of cast of HBO real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. (Photo by Monte Isom) ***Local Caption*** [cast of HBO real Sports with Bryant Gumbel]
If you’re unfamiliar with HBO’s Real Sports, its format is similar to 60 Minutes. Each show spotlights three features, each of which are usually a shade under 20 minutes with a minute or so of in studio banter about the piece before introducing the next one. There are a wide range of subjects featured, which can include the following general ideas.

The last category is where Real Sports particularly shines and where the show’s journalistic plaudits come from. The idea that Barstool went into this Real Sports feature thinking that the feautre wasn’t going to land in this bucket seems insane, but that’s the thing: it’s not ignorance, it’s a calculation, and from there, it’s kayfabe.

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. The playbook is predictable at this point, and typically includes the following.

  • A blog post, video, and string of tweets from Portnoy and others explaining their version of what happened. It’s usually some iteration of “we’re being attacked” mixed with “this is ridiculous” and “this person/publication sucks”
  • Blasting the talking point that company is not sexist or misogynistic because of the women in prominent leadership positions, as well as a growing editorial prominence.

  • A concerted effort by readers to go through past stories of social media posts of the “attacking” publication or writer looking to unearth and publicize things that haven’t aged well and are hypocritical to the attacking piece. I hope to god my old MySpace page will never be unearthed.
  • Stoolies posting screenshots of them deleting apps, cancelling subscriptions, or blocking the offending outlet on social media, which in turn gets promoted by Barstool personalities, snowballing the activity.

  • Most importantly beyond the spike in engagement with the readership, you’ll often see Barstool monetize these dust-ups by either promoting merchandise or their premium subscription offering.

Rinse and repeat, at least a dozen times a year. It works, and apparently it works well enough that Barstool is fine putting their head in HBO’s mouth because they know the safety net of this cycle is and will always be there. My big question is whether or not HBO turned up anything substantively new and shocking, or if it will just be a well-packaged summary of the company with some added nuggets and history they’ve unearthed. Regardless of the public statements we’ve seen today, Barstool knew where this was headed going in and seems confident it’s not going to be an issue going forward. Like it or not, that’s probably going to be the case and it’ll probably be the case when the next Barstool-related controversy pops up in the coming days, weeks, or months ahead.

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - EIC and CEO at @comeback_sports and @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.