Over the weekend of June 26-28, 2020, clips began to resurface online of Dave Portnoy, Barstool Sports’ founder and president, straight-up using racial slurs on old Barstool videos.
In response to this, Portnoy released a three-minute video response where he essentially doubled down on his behavior, outright refusing to apologize to people he offended and blaming the “cancel culture” warriors for bringing it up in the first place.
Normally, the incident wouldn’t be a big deal. A 43-year-old frat boy says racist things a few years ago, absolutely refuses to apologize or explain how he’s grown as a person initially, then finally puts out an apology video three days later aimed to his employees because his workers turned on him. After that? The world moves on because it’s 2020. And when it comes to Portnoy, it’s really just his most recent controversy; we’d be here all day if I moved on to all of the other garbage this guy and his company has spewed.
However, prior to last season, NASCAR entered a “paid media spend” with Barstool. The idea is very simple: Barstool has a lot of young fans. NASCAR needs a lot of young fans.
But as the sport continues to progress and move on, Portnoy and his actions continue to stick out like a sore thumb. Literally one week after that great showing of unity at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR gave a “no comment” to the Portnoy slur controversy. This comes after the events in late February, where NASCAR again gave no comment after Portnoy couldn’t take a joke and bullied two full-time beat reporters on the circuit simply because he had (and has) more followers than them.
I’ll admit to not being the first to write about Barstool. Alanis King has done a significantly better job then I could ever wish to do covering Barstool over the years. It’s just insane that NASCAR just continues to pay these people money, when much larger organizations like the NFL or media companies like ESPN figured out a long, long time ago to not do business with Portnoy.
When I wrote the linked column, I sent an email asking NASCAR for comment on its partnership with Barstool given the regular transgressions of the organization and its founder. NASCAR declined to comment.
Here’s a list of what was sent: pic.twitter.com/Ljq8EavACK
— Alanis King (@alanisnking) January 31, 2020
“Cancel culture” is the biggest myth on social media, and it’s almost exclusively used to waste arguments such as this one’s time and space to shoot it down. Portnoy’s three examples of people getting “canceled” in his video are still all rich, successful and have highly visible jobs. If Barstool were to get “canceled” by NASCAR, what really happens there for Portnoy besides his base being fired up and willing to give him money for more awful shirts? He’d just move on and continue being rich. In fact, he’d be richer, if he is to be believed in effectively saying that Barstool brings so many fans to NASCAR.
Is NASCAR’s partnership in Barstool a success?
Now, to be fair to Barstool, this partnership is not a one-way street. Barstool has sponsored a NASCAR Cup Series car in a handful of races the past two seasons as a primary sponsor; right now, they’re actively sponsoring both Clint Bowyer and Hailie Deegan. Obviously, we don’t know how much Barstool is paying to sponsor drivers, nor do we know how much NASCAR is paying Barstool.
What we do have, however, are cold, hard, less shady then GrubHub TV ratings. You can point to any number of other business metrics, such as merchandise, live attendance or social media impressions. But as the COVID-19 situation has proven, FOX and NBC are the main source of income for NASCAR. Ratings should be the number one priority when it comes to off-track decisions the sanctioning body makes, and it almost always is. Don’t like 3 p.m. ET race starts? Blame the TV companies for that, not NASCAR.
The ratings do not show much in support of Barstool. Ratings were flat or slightly down last season. So far this season, they’ve been slightly down despite NASCAR having the athletic playing field mostly to themselves.
Portnoy initially championed the success of the 2019 Daytona 500 ratings based entirely off of the overnights, later citing big increases in the TV markets of Washington D.C. and Boston as a direct effect of the partnership. Putting aside the fact that the race ended up being the least-viewed Daytona 500 in many years, barring rainouts, let’s play along and do some market comparisons.
In 2018 and 2019, Talladega Superspeedway hosted a NASCAR Cup race in April on the same weekend. Both were shown on FOX, so we actually have market information for them courtesy of Adam Stern and Sports Media Watch. And both drew a similar rating, although the 2019 iteration drew slightly less viewers.
2018 Top Five Talladega Markets
1. Greensboro, North Carolina
2. Greenville, North Carolina
3. Birmingham, Alabama
4. Richmond, Virginia
5. Charlotte, North Carolina.
2019 Top Five Talladega Markets (With Barstool Now Involved)
1. Birmingham, Alabama
2. Greenville, North Carolina
3. Richmond, Virginia
4. Greensboro, North Carolina
5. Charlotte, North Carolina
Would you look at that? There doesn’t seem to be many new, exciting markets on here that Portnoy conjured up. What’s more is that three of the five markets had a larger share in 2019. That means with a lower ratings share, NASCAR actually drew less in non-top five markets.
There’s a lot that can be said about President Donald Trump. Way more than beyond the scope of this website. But Trump’s presence at the Daytona 500 in February initially drew nearly 20% more than 2019’s rating, prior to the rain delay and ultimate postponement. It’s not fair to directly compare anybody to the sitting president being front-and-center and a key part in an event’s promotion. You can’t fully pin a rating for a pre-race visit and pace laps with a four-hour broadcast.
But that Trump number, to the trained observer, is what an actual bump looks like. Barstool actually lost overall viewers for their so-called “bump.”
Ultimately, is Barstool really worth it?
Unless Barstool was outright attributing half of Trump’s bump to the overall schedule in 2019 and could be tied directly in with the 2020 surge, there’s really not a whole lot of justification for NASCAR to continue their relationship with the company. And even then, maybe the increased fan base isn’t worth working with someone that uses a racial slur as the title for a podcast.
This is a company that faked a press badge to get Portnoy into the NFL’s Super Bowl Media Day. They faked a press badge. Like with Trump, there’s a lot to be said about what went down in Las Vegas, but not even Motor Racing Insider considered the idea of faking their way to the media center in that kind of avenue.
Now in this case, for performing an act that would lead to a complete dismissal and probable ban from any NASCAR event, they get the red carpet rolled out to them? Keep in mind Barstool also has stolen content in the past, just like MRI did, which led to my favorite tweet ever from Portnoy.
I don’t care about the attention this column will bring, nor do I care about moving up in the world of NASCAR media. I’m satisfied where I’m at, and don’t expect the red carpet from NASCAR. I do think, however, that NASCAR should not be giving money to an unapologetic frat boy who runs a company that cares more about GrubHub’s precious little feelings then it does about actual people hurt/legitimately triggered by their actions or words.
What does July 4 weekend hold?
This is a huge weekend for motorsports, and the first that truly feels like racing is more-or-less back.
Friday night, July 3, will feature the ARCA Menards Series running its fourth event of the season, at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. It will be the biggest race in the country with a sizable amount of fans in attendance since March.
Saturday, INDYCAR will host its second race of the season at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which will be followed up with a NASCAR Xfinity Series event on the same configuration. IMSA’s first event in months will commence in Daytona Beach following the NXS race, a 240-mile sprint to end July 4 for motorsports fans.
Formula One takes center stage Sunday morning, July 5, with its first Grand Prix of the season, followed up six hours after the green lights come on with the NASCAR Cup Series race at the IMS oval. In summary, that’s a half-dozen different major racing series active over the course of the weekend.
It’s just bizarre that there’s no Truck race anymore at LOR. That race used to be so much fun to watch, another short track race in a series that desperately needs more than the four they’ve been granted.
It’s pretty fair to say the Brickyard 400 is going to be another snoozer, though. NASCAR racing at Indianapolis in general is a slug to get through, with maybe one out of every seven or eight years being chaotic enough to be memorable. It’s going to be a hot race this time for the drivers, with temperatures expected above 90 degrees on race day. But the heat won’t translate to on-track competition; it wouldn’t be surprising if there’s maybe one or two on-track passes for the lead during the race.
That being said, the NXS race is going to be such an unknown. Stock cars have never run on that IMS road course, so who really knows what is going to happen before the series holds a short practice session prior to the race? If Formula One produces another dominating Mercedes debut, that means the big day of the weekend to watch these races will be Saturday.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.