Barstool Sports ‘Hemorrhaging Money,’ Top Editor Flips Out at Writers
The website’s EIC battled with some of his staffers, even calling one writer “super-retarded,” as the controversial sports site faces financial strain from the pandemic.
Barstool Sports, the satirical men’s sports and lifestyle blog, is “hemorrhaging money,” according to an email sent over the weekend by its editor-in-chief, Keith Markovich. The controversial outlet’s founder Dave Portnoy also confessed last month that the site was “losing millions of dollars in advertising,” thanks to the ongoing global pandemic.
The email and subsequent text messages sent by Markovich—in one, he called a blogger “super-retarded”—were read aloud during a contentious, heated exchange on Monday with the four hosts of the SiriusXM radio show Barstool Chicago.
The kerfuffle began over the weekend when Mike “Barstool Carl” Sterk sent a follow-up email to Markovich asking whether he would be allowed to blog about GrubHub, which advertises on Barstool. (Markovich did not respond to a previous email sent two days prior.) A photo posted on Facebook on Friday by the owner of a Chicago-based food truck revealed that the delivery app snatched $666.09 in fees and commissions from the $1,042.63 worth of orders the truck received last month, and so Sterk reached out to his editor again.
Though Barstool has repeatedly crowed about the creative freedom their employees are given, a blog post that could be perceived as critical of their financial partner was off-limits, Markovich responded. A series of somewhat unclear, glib messages were sent back and forth, before Markovich wrote a lengthy reply.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” the email began. “In all seriousness and for future references: If we’ve got a major advertiser, so much so you’re aware of it, and so much so that you actually name it in the subject line and then write an email that you know they’re an advertiser.”
He continued: “We’re two months into a pandemic and the second Great Depression and we’re hemorrhaging money as a company. We need the dollars to stay in business and meet payroll. It’s a waste of my valuable time to respond to the point where I thought I may be risking reprimand by our CEO [Erika Nardini] for spending time fucking responding to it.”
Sterk was taken aback by Markovich’s tone, which he perceived as hostile and insulting. He texted Markovich to ask if they could discuss the problem. The pair sent each other multiple messages on Saturday, but Sterk only quoted two from Markovich during the broadcast.
In response to Sterk’s request to talk, Markovich wrote, “I’m surprised you’d follow up after I slapped you like a little bitch!” Later he asked Sterk: “And which one are you again? All the Chicago meatheads sort of blend together for me except the super-retarded one, Dave [‘White Sox Dave’ Williams].” When shown the message by Sterk, Williams was so incensed, he “would have fucking hit him,” had Markovich said the same thing to his face, he said. “I had steam coming out of my ears.” Ed “Barstool Eddie” Farrer added: “It was out of line.”
All four radio hosts were upset with Markovich’s lack of professionalism and demeaning response to what they considered a perfectly reasonable workplace question. After taking a day to cool off, they collectively decided to ask Markovich to call in to the show.
Initially, Markovich hesitated to do so, thinking this was a prank. He relented, and for more than a half an hour, they hashed it out and tempers flared.
“It is fucked up the way you handled this,” said Markovich, who repeatedly insisted that the entirety of his texts and emails were intended as sarcasm and good-natured ribbing. The hosts countered that they had experienced similar behavior from him in the past and claimed he has a reputation for talking down to employees. Lacking a relationship outside of work, they had no basis to assume Markovich was joking around. As a rebuttal, Markovich cited the smug tenor found in the texts and emails much like the character he’s crafted over 11 years working at Barstool: A “smug asshole,” he said. The idea that anyone might not see any daylight between this fictional construct and who he is “in real life” enrages him, Markovich insisted.
Further, the editor-in-chief claimed, it should have been clear to the Barstool Chicago hosts that he was not being serious because of the line in the email in which he stressed how valuable his time is. “My time is not valuable. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t think my time is valuable,” Markovich remarked.
Asked to be treated in a professional manner going forward, Markovich shot back, shouting: “It’s fucking Barstool. I don’t pretend to be professional.”
Markovich returned to the show on Tuesday. The hosts seemed not entirely swayed by the editor’s protestations but wanted to give their colleague and direct superior the benefit of the doubt.
For his part, Markovich apologized for the email and conceded that his jokes could have been misunderstood. “That word,” he said, referring to the slur he called Williams, “that I don’t even use for real. I’m surprised I used it in a joke. That’s how over-the-top I was being, which, that’s awful on my part.”
At no time during either broadcast did Markovich deny that the site is in fact losing money. Reached for comment, Markovich said the question of lost revenue, too, was, “a sarcastic joke that was part of what I thought was obviously a larger sarcastic joke to make fun of a co-worker privately,” he said via email. “I have no idea what our finances are right now or ever. Literally zero idea.”
But Markovich apparently didn’t recall or didn’t receive the company-wide email sent by Portnoy in April which specifically mentioned “millions” in losses. During the April 6 Stock Central podcast, Dave Portnoy and Michael “Large” McCarthy—a former Citigroup VP who lost his job a decade ago when it was revealed that he wrote an anonymous, raunchy blog on the side—discussed the email on-air. “Like we’re losing millions of dollars in advertising,” said Portnoy. (Prior to the pandemic, a large chunk of Barstool’s revenue came from advertising on digital and audio content.)
In the email, Portnoy, who has dabbled in some light COVID-19 truthering, praised his company’s and employees’ past and current charitable efforts, but stressed that their first priority now should be coming up with new, profitable revenue streams. “The purpose of this email isn’t to make people worried about losing their jobs,“ the email—read by McCarthy with a grin—stated. “I just wanna be proactive and remind people to spend time thinking about how we can make money for ourselves so we avoid being forced to make the hard decisions we don’t want to make.”
Then Portnoy clarified that the “hard decisions” he hoped not to face meant “getting rid of people.” While the economic losses were an inevitability, per Portnoy, ideally the total could be kept down to $5 million. It is unknown if the Barstool founder, like other media company executives, has offered to slash his salary in order to possibly stave off the layoffs, pay cuts, and furloughs that have been implemented across the digital landscape. Asked by The Daily Beast whether he or other top-level Barstool employees were taking a haircut, or if layoffs were imminent, Portnoy emailed: “I know who you are dickface.”
Portnoy’s wallet has shrunk over the last three months, too.
Penn National Gaming acquired a 36 percent share of Barstool on Jan. 29. In the deal, Barstool was valued at $450 million. Those who owned equity in Barstool, including Portnoy, received $135 million and $28 million in Penn stock, per the Wall Street Journal. With casinos closed nationwide, Penn’s market value has been sliced in half. By his calculations, Portnoy has lost over half of his estimated $100 million net worth. Still, “Don’t cry for me, Argentina,” he said on April 27.
With sports on hiatus for the foreseeable future, Portnoy has concocted a way to create content: day-trading.
Since March 16, he has set up a camera in the office of his Chelsea apartment and has live-streamed his initial foray into the market. The Periscope broadcasts often last for hours every weekday, and the solo performance features extemporaneous, twitchy monologues from Portnoy bracketed by long stretches of silence. The show has attracted a sponsor, and some of the live-streams have amassed more than 200,000 viewers.
Starting with a $5 million investment, he dubbed himself “Davey Day Trader,” and has given his non-existent firm a name: Davey Day Trader Global. After seven weeks spent staring at his E-Trade terminal and occasionally screaming into the camera, by 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Portnoy had frittered away approximately $900,000.