'They have been who they are for a long time': Big brands are sticking with Barstool Sports after sexual-harassment claims

Barstool Sports/YouTubeDunkin’ Doughnuts sponsors a show called Barstool Rundown.
  • A Daily Beast article last week detailed allegations of sexual harassment and cyberbullying by Barstool Sports founder and chief of content Dave Portnoy.
  • Since then, Panera Bread and Dunkin’ Doughnuts have continued running ads on Barstool Sports, while The Weather Channel and Golf Channel have removed their programmatic ads from appearing on the site.
  • Portnoy and CEO Erika Nardini have both responded to the allegations and say that the site’s type of comedy is central to the Barstool brand.

A week after The Daily Beast published a 5,000-word feature detailing Barstool Sports’ reportedly “misogynistic” culture and online harassment, some of the site’s biggest advertisers advertisers haven’t budged.

The Daily Beast article describes evidence of sexual harassment and cyberbullying at Barstool Sports, including a spat between ESPN host Sam Ponder and Barstool Sports founder and chief of content Dave Portnoy that dates to 2014.

On Thursday, Will Leitch, the founding editor of Deadspin and a current New York Magazine columnist, wrote a follow-up piece about how the Daily Beast’s article may be a turning point for advertisers that choose to align themselves with Barstool’s content.

“Barstool Sports has earned a blue-chip advertiser roster for being unapologetically frat boyish in the way it brings sports content to readers,” Mike Duda, a managing partner at Bullish, said. “If the editorial tone turns out to be a byproduct of a misogynous culture, some advertisers will bail on it to avoid guilt by association.”

So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Daily Beast article mentions Twitter, Bud Light, Panera, and Dunkin’ Doughnuts as some of Barstool’s biggest advertisers, many of which create custom or sponsored content, like Panera’s sponsorship of a college-football web-video series or Dunkin’ Doughnuts’ sponsorship of a daily video series called “Barstool Rundown.”

Both Panera and Dunkin’ Doughnuts have continued to run their sponsorships this week. Bud Light did not respond to press enquiries, and a spokeswoman for Twitter declined to comment on the brand’s involvement with Barstool.

Brands continue to find their ads running in unknown corners of the web

While big advertisers are sticking with Barstool, two advertisers – The Weather Channel and Golf Channel – quietly removed Barstool from their programmatic media buys last week after Business Insider contacted them. The ads were running through Oath’s native and search advertising platform that plugs into hundreds of websites.

Both advertisers said they were not aware that their ads were running on Barstool before Business Insider contacted them.

Programmatic makes up a small portion of ad revenue for Barstool, and this appears to be the latest example of brands finding their ads on unknown sites through programmatic ad buys.

According to one media agency exec, Barstool has consistently been removed from programmatic buys across sports publishers.

“It’s been around since 2003, they’re a known quantity and frankly there are many easier ways to reach people without having to face that blowback,” one agency source said.

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Barstool’s controversial content isn’t for all advertisers

Barstool’s roots are in sports comedy and satire and some advertisers have always been squeamish about associating themselves with the site.

“They have been who they are for a long time,” said the media agency exec.

In a blog post published on Friday, Portnoy acknowledged that Barstool’s revenue is intentionally diversified outside of advertising in areas like ecommerce.

“Advertisers are generally very nervous to stay in the mud with us. It doesn’t matter if we are right or wrong,” Portnoy wrote.

Barstool CEO and long-time media exec Erika Nardini also wrote a blog post last week, responding to the Daily Beast article.

“I am a woman CEO of a comedy brand dressed up as a sports media site,” she wrote.

Barstool now has 23 women employees, up from one in 2016. She also said that revenue has increased 795% since she became CEO.

While she is working to hire more women – and predicted Barstool would have 40 women employees by 2020 – she said that the site’s flavour of comedy is central to Barstool’s brand.

“Do I wish that these guys would bite their tongue or hold back sometimes? As a businesswoman, yes, maybe,” she wrote. “As a CEO, and a fan of the brand in general, I know that is not how they operate. They are not journalists. They are comedians, satirists, sports fans, average guys and girls who believe in being blunt and honest and that if someone spits in your face, you don’t sit silently because you are worried about an ad deal — you fight back.”

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