ESPN abruptly canceled “Barstool Van Talk” Monday afternoon, ending its affiliation with the popular but controversial brand after just one episode. The decision came amid internal backlash among ESPN employees regarding the association.
“While we had approval on the content of the show, I erred in assuming we could distance ourselves from the Barstool site and its content,’’ said ESPN president John Skipper in a brief statement. “Apart from this decision, we appreciate the efforts of [host] Big Cat [Dan Katz] and PFT Commenter. They delivered the show they promised.”
The Barstool brand, created by Dave Portnoy, gradually built an enormous following on its website among the men 18-35 demographic. In its earlier days, crude and misogynistic content was not uncommon. Since Portnoy sold 51 percent of the company to the Chernin Group in January 2016, the site has become more mainstream, expanding its reach and become even more successful, most notably with the Pardon My Take podcast, which is frequently at the top of the iTunes most-downloaded rankings.
Barstool’s audience is so large that a partnership with ESPN made as much sense in Bristol as it did for Barstool. But the announcement that Pardon My Take, an irreverent and clever podcast that was essentially repurposed for video as Barstool Van Talk, was met with significant backlash within ESPN, some of which became public.
Most notably, Samantha Ponder, the host of Sunday Morning Countdown, took to Twitter last week with her frustrations about the Barstool/ESPN relationship.
“I am disappointed that we are promoting a company name that still maintains support for horrific personal attacks against multiple women within ESPN,’’ she tweeted.
In 2014, Portnoy wrote a blog post about Ponder [she mistakenly believed Katz was the author] after she had been critical of the site. “Seriously you sound like a … freak, not a chick that has a job where the #1 requirement is you [turn men on],” the post said. “So give it a rest with your righteous indignation. Your entire career and livelihood is based on appealing to guys like me and blogs like ours. Bottomline is guys thinking chicks are hot is natural. It’s Darwinism. It’s never gonna change. But that doesn’t mean we don’t respect women and think it’s okay to hit a woman. I have no idea what’s so confusing about that. Go [expletive] yourself.”
While some ESPN personalities have had a friendly relationship with Barstool, among them Scott Van Pelt and Rachel Nichols, multiple sources said that Ponder was not alone among ESPN talent in expressing extreme disappointment in the arrangement to management.
In their usual irreverent tone, Katz and PFT Commenter issued a statement thanking those involved in the project.
“Although we are heartbroken, Pardon My Take will continue to get bigger and stronger every single day. Please subscribe to Pardon My Take, unsubscribe and re-subscribe, and leave a 5-Star review to help us take some of the sting off of this.”
In a video press conference shortly after ESPN’s statement was released, Portnoy defended Barstool, saying that "ESPN needed us” and that the network “just played right into our hands.”Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.