Barstool Sports is Turning Heads in Sports Media

Two and a half years ago, Dan Greenberg found himself between jobs and looking to kill idle time.

As a loyal Barstool Sports fan, he noticed a hole in their Boston sports coverage; the site had no Celtics writer.  Greenberg started a Celtics blog with nothing more than pipe dreams of one day being a Barstool writer.

“I was never a journalism major or really ever thought of applying to Barstool,” Greenberg said. “I just love the Celtics way too much and had to kill time somehow while looking for jobs. One day I saw (Barstool founder Dave Portnoy) tweet something out about Isaiah Thomas, and I had just written an Isaiah blog, so I tweeted him the URL. Obviously not expecting a response, he followed me for about 10 seconds to (direct message) me to tell me he liked my blog and to send him some more. I did and a few days later he replied to the email saying we could give it a shot. Hundreds of blogs later, here I am.”

Greenberg, known as Greenie on Barstool, now can be found regularly on Barstool writing about the Celtics. While Greenberg’s rise to Barstool fame is impressive, it pales in comparison to what the company has done on the national level.

In the past year Barstool Sports, a sports blog which began in 2003 as a Boston-based newspaper, has burst onto the mainstream media scene by making waves in a way that it only knows how, appealing to the “common man.” Their rise to prominence in the mainstream media is an interesting story, as it struggled to gain legitimacy in its early years, but now is being touted as one of the most promising media companies.

Ever since their sale to The Chernin Group, a media company that acquired a majority stake to the site, the blog has traded in a Northeast-based audience for a national audience. The team at Barstool has parlayed their humor into a weeklong TV show on Comedy Central and a daily radio show on SiriusXM.

“Lately, it has just exploded,” Boston Globe sports media columnist Chad Finn said. “…It’s like as if Barstool nationwide now is what it has been in New England for the last four or five years.”

Their audience, known as “stoolies,” is a tight-knit, rabid bunch that is known on as being bullish on Twitter when enemies launch attacks on one of their own. The site gets 8 million unique visitors a month and has built a talented roster of personalities that thrive on humor and satire with sports as their scope. On any given day, Barstool will have headlines ranging from “Some Dude In Ireland Got Crushed To Death When 40 Tons Of Cheese Fell On Him” to “Pete Mackanin and The Phillies Piss Another Game Away.”

While comedy and relating to the “common man” is the core behind what Barstool does, the site does have sports in the name, making it another key element to the site’s demographic. As a Boston-based site, the blog has a writer that focuses specifically on each Boston sport. Jerry Thornton handles the Patriots, Jared Carrabis is the Red Sox writer, Brian McGonagle (Rear Admiral) does the Bruins and Dan Greenberg (Greenie) writes about the Celtics.

Despite none of these sport-specific writers having backgrounds in journalism, they thrive in this area. In writing from the perspective of the fan, they don’t hide their biases, which makes them more beloved from the perspective of the fans. Each of the personalities also did not make it to Barstool by accident, but it did take a stroke of luck. For Carrabis, he worked over 10 years writing his own independent baseball news before being hired by Barstool.

“You see Carrabis now on Comcast SportsNet New England,” Finn said. “Jared’s been around for 10-12 years now as a blogger writing about the Red Sox, but his career has taken off because of his association with Barstool and that’s not by accident.”

Like Carrabis, each of the other three writers used the platform to grow their profile in the Boston media market. Each of the four writers has made an appearance on either WEEI or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Greenberg used his writing to connect with a WEEI late night host, Christian Arcand, who hooked up Greenberg for a radio spot.

“You never know who’s a stoolie and who reads your stuff,” Greenberg said. “So one day (Arcand) randomly DM’d me asking if I would be interested in coming on his show after a Celtics game. I obviously accepted, and while I had only done a few other appearances on podcasts, it’s something that will only help spread myself and Barstool to a wider audience. It’s been fun and I love going on whenever he wants.”

While Greenberg is just getting the taste of the Boston market, Thornton has been through the ringer in Boston. Getting his start as a writer for the early Barstool newspaper, he used his profile on the site to land a full-time blogging and radio gig at WEEI. As an afternoon drive-time host, Thornton got to speak weekly with guest like Bill Belichick and John Farrell.

“The experience was invaluable,” Thornton said of his tenure at WEEI. “I worked with pros who gave me coaching I like to think improved my game.”

After his contract at WEEI expired, Thornton made his triumphant return to Barstool, not because he failed in radio, but because Barstool became more corporatized it could now offer benefits, such as health insurance, that weren’t available in years past. However, Finn notes that when WEEI made the move, they were hoping that it would bring Thornton’s Barstool following with him, which never panned out.

“(WEEI) hired him to bolster their website,” Finn said of Thornton. “…I don’t know how successful that was, he’s a really good football writer that’s hilarious with the stuff he writes, but I’m not sure how much it translated to WEEI.com.”

Through it all, it was an amicable parting of ways and Thornton himself also saw an opportunity in new Barstool after the Chernin deal.

“The site has completely taken off,” Thornton said. “Yes, we were growing exponentially during my Barstool 1.0 stint, but since Chernin bought their stake it in, we’ve become a major media player. NBC Sports said us getting barred by the NFL was the biggest story of Super Bowl week. Then add all the new media platforms we’ve taken over … we’ve got a grip on the key young male demographic that other media outlets would kill for. For me personally, the return has been better than I could’ve hoped. With the usual few chirps from the comments section aside, I feel welcomed back and enjoy having the huge audience.”

My photo story took a look at how fans celebrated Patriot’s Day in New England with the Red Sox game and the Boston Marathon. My video story chronicled how three Northeastern students consumed their news about sports.

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Taking a look at Chad Finn’s top big-event announcers

Something I had been considering doing for a while was looking at the national announcers and rating my top play-by-play men. Well, Chad Finn’s Friday column was just that, the top 10 big-event announcers. Here is his condensed list:

  1. Al Michaels (NBC; football)
  2. Joe Buck (Fox; football, baseball, golf)
  3. Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (NBC; hockey)
  4. Mike Tirico (NBC; football, golf, Olympics, etc.)
  5. Sean McDonough (ESPN; Monday Night Football, college basketball)
  6. Kevin Harlan (CBS/Turner/Westwood One Radio; football, basketball)
  7. Jim Nantz (CBS; football, basketball, golf)
  8. Mike Breen (ESPN/ABC; basketball)
  9. Marv Albert (Turner; basketball)
  10. Kevin Burkhardt (Fox; football, baseball, golf)

I have no big issues with Finn’s list; his top three makes a lot of sense for me and definitely would be my as well. I would give the top nod to Buck, however, due to the breadth of his work and how his voice has that ‘big game’ feel and he has called the most goosebump-inducing of moments. His call in game 4 of the 2004 World Series is perfect, “back to Foulke, Red Sox fans have longed to hear it: The Boston Red Sox are World Champions!” and then gets out of the way. Unobtrusive, like it should be.

Emrick and Michaels both excel at what they do, despite having diminished roles in their later years. Emrick, who has an exquisite vocabulary, once used 153 different verbs to describe a pass in hockey. His excitement is unmatched. Michaels has the pedigree and the legacy. From calling the miracle on ice in 1980, he has had a long, storied career and has shown no signs of slowing down in his work on the marquee Sunday Night Football broadcast.

My one issue, which has been slowly brewing for a while, is Nantz on this list. Once one of my favorite announcers, Nantz has jumped the shark for me. He seems to think that he is a part of the moment more than he should have, for instance when he stepped all over Sergio Garcia’s winning putt just last week. Whether it be giving out ties in the NCAA tournament (who wants a freaking Nantz tie?!?!?) or pictures of how he likes his burnt toast in his wallet (seriously…), Nantz has started to bug me about how he wants to be the story. Also, in his calls he is very reserved and doesn’t seem to have a memorable moment or call, even in his high-profile gigs like the Master, NCAA Tournament and Super Bowl. To me, he’s just another voice, not worthy of even top 10 honors, despite his role.

Tony Romo leaves NFL for CBS broadcasting booth

Once the punchline of NFL late-game interception jokes, Tony Romo has announced that he is leaving the NFL to take over the top analyst spot in the CBS broadcasting both next to Jim Nantz. While this may not be a Boston-specific story, I think this will have an impact on the Boston market for two reasons. First, the Patriots play a lot of games on CBS and as a perennial contender, they often draw the premier broadcast team and timeslot. Boston fans better be ready for the voice of Romo. Second, and less about media, it makes Jimmy Garoppolo an even more valuable commodity to sell for a higher price.

In looking at the changes to the booth, it is rare that you see a player step off the field and right into a high-profile broadcast spot. Pundits predicted that Peyton Manning was a candidate for this, but it never came to fruition. Additionally, it is such a change of tune from CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus, who just last fall praised former top analyst Phil Simms, saying:

“Listening to it with a very critical ear, I think Phil is vastly underappreciated, and part of that is the overreaction to social media. If you listen to what he said during some of the biggest moments of the season—he was the first one to say if Denver won the Super Bowl, Von Miller would be MVP, and he was the first one to criticize Cam Newton for not jumping on his fumble toward the end of the game. He was on top of most of the storylines for most of the game, and that’s part of the reason we won the [Sports] Emmy [for Outstanding Live Sports Special]. I would just suggest that if people listen to Jim and Phil with an open mind, I think they would recognize what a good job they are doing.”

However, Simms has been brutal as a TV analyst in recent years, gaining notoriety for his babbling analysis that has its own faux-Twitter account with over 41,000 followers.

While I agree that Simms should be out as the top analyst, I’m not sure if Romo was the guy for the job. It is tough to step right into that top role, especially never having called a game before. It could also get particularly awkward if Romo does make a midseason return to the NFL, forcing CBS to return to the Nantz-Simms duo. However, nothing will ever top the Simms fart on the awkward scale.

Presentation on Boston Sports Media

For my blog beat, I mainly use two sources of information if I am struggling to find a topic to write about. Since I am very plugged in, I normally have a story I want to target, but this is another way for me to find sources for blog posts.

First, I look at the most prominent national media critic, Richard Deitsch, and see what the big national stories are in his weekly column and on his Twitter feed. Deitsch is usually very on top of things and even will occasionally feature some Boston-based content that would be useful for me.

On a more local level, Chad Finn, the Globe’s sports media columnist, is my go-to if I can’t find any leads. Since Finn just focuses on Boston, he is very in-tune with what is going on with personalities and not shy in interacting on Twitter. His weekly columns are also great for my beat, especially since he does reporting that pertains specifically to Boston.  The one problem with Finn is that he often stays away from Globe affairs, so if anything happens with a Globe sportswriter, Finn will not usually touch it.

Obviously, SI has a large page view number, but it is not as interesting as a look at bostonsportsmedia.com, which used to be an independently-run blog about the media in Boston. I was planning to use it as main source, but in October, the editor pulled back from writing about the media and it became a Patriots-only blog. Since then, the pageviews have declined from 25,000 to 6,000 as the site has clearly lost its luster.

Red Sox brass takes aim at media over Tyler Thornburg

Newly-acquired relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg was looking to be the Red Sox set-up man heading into the season. Instead, after a rocky spring, Thornburg will start the season on the disabled list. While disappointing as a Red Sox fan to have another promising arm go on the DL before making a regular season appearance (see: Smith, Carson), the bigger story here is how the Red Sox management has handled (or mis-handled) this story.

As background, Thornburg came into camp and struggled with the Red Sox shoulder program for pitchers, leading him to be shut down for most of the spring. After Thornburg had clearly admitted he wasn’t ready for the intense program, President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski went on the attack at the media for the “pushing” the narrative surrounding the shoulder program. Despite Thornburg being the one that brought up the program, it is a bit troubling that after Thornburg admitted on March 11 that his “arm wasn’t used to the type of exercises and the amount of them,” Dombrowski would blame the media for pushing that agenda.

Dombrowski was not alone in his defense of the throwing program. Manager John Farrell, who previously had also mentioned on May 10 that Thornburg was going through an adjustment period with the shoulder program, completely changed his tune yesterday. Farrell also flipped the script on the reporters saying:

“There’s been a lot written targeting our shoulder program here. I would discount that completely. He came into camp, he was throwing the ball extremely well, makes two appearances. They were two lengthy innings in which inflammation flared up to the point of shutting him down. But in the early work in spring training, he was throwing the ball outstanding. So to suggest that his situation or his symptoms are now the result of our shoulder program, that’s false.”

Seems almost presidential the way that Farrell pivoted in his response. Today, Thornburg again reiterated that the shoulder program was a factor in his injury. Nonetheless, I am not sure what the Red Sox are trying to hide here. They need to get their story straight and I think most people would tend to believe the player in this instance, so why try to deny something coming straight from a player’s mouth. By doing this, they have brought more attention than necessary to a story that otherwise would have been a throwaway in a notebook or, at most, a sidebar story. This is not a great look for a team heading into what looks to be a promising season, especially a team like the Red Sox that already have their concerns about management’s handling of players.

Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham in hot water over Twitter use

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It all started with this since-deleted exchange. Out of nowhere, the Globe’s Pete Abraham calls a tweeter “Grand Wizard” aka the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, for implying that the Red Sox are better without David Price. As Abraham should know, deleting this tweet would not solve the problem because once you tweet something, it’s almost impossible to control. Since this tweet, Abraham has given a lame apology (seen below), but is still feeling the heat from the asinine tweet.

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Check the mentions of any Abraham tweet and it is filled with comments destroying his accusation that someone is racist because they don’t like David Price. The story is best chronicled by Jared Carrabis at Barstool Sports, where he goes through the story of Abraham and also his past experiences with Abraham, which frankly make Abraham look very insecure.

For me, I have heard from many accounts that Abraham is not the most pleasant person behind closed doors. However, my problem with this is using his high-profile position as a beat writer to constantly give the team the benefit of the doubt. In this case, the tweeter who said the Red Sox were “better without” David Price was almost definitely looking at his 3.99 ERA, worst since his rookie year, and the fact that he is making $31 million a year. Race notwithstanding, most fans are ticked off when a high paid player underachieves and especially when they are as sensitive on Twitter as David Price is.

Abraham should not be focused on coming to the team’s defense and race-baiting, as that is not his job as a beat writer. In Carrabis’ post, he also recounts the time that Abraham claimed that Pablo Sandoval couldn’t have liked an Instagram post during a game because it is against MLB policy. When the story, which Carrabis broke, was confirmed to be true, Abraham begrudgingly gave credit to Carrabis. It seems that Abraham’s first instinct here was to work as a PR person, not a reporter covering a team and investigating. To me, that is something that the Globe should keep an eye on. Who knows if he has had stories in the past that he has kept under the pillow to please the team.