ESPN made headlines again on Oct. 23 by canceling “Barstool Van Talk,” a new show that had only aired for one episode. The move stirred controversy, as several ESPN employees were reportedly unhappy with the partnership despite the excitement it had brought.
The show, hosted by Barstool employees Dan “Big Cat” Katz and PFTcommenter, was meant as a means to get new, creative content onto ESPN. Because of the nature of the show and the potential controversy it brought, it was given an air time of 1 a.m. on Wednesdays on ESPN2.
Since the creation of “Pardon My Take,” a Barstool podcast, Big Cat and PFTcommenter have grown from irrelevant internet bloggers into social media celebrities. The name, “Pardon My Take,” is derived from ESPN shows “Pardon the Interruption” and “First Take,” attempting to poke fun and offer a satirical perspective of the sports landscape.
At the time, ESPN was not friendly with Barstool, sending a cease-and-desist letter after the podcast’s launch, which Barstool employees initially laughed off. The blog later threatened legal action right back and one Barstool writer wrote that ESPN was just whining because Barstool was, “winning the optics battle and the hearts and minds of the internet,” according to the blog’s website.
That quote proved to be true. According to Barstool, the podcast averages between 750,000 and 1.5 million listeners per episode and is regularly ranked as the No. 1 podcast in the “Sports and Recreation” section of iTunes. Last year, the show was named one of the best 12 podcasts by Apple and The Big Lead went as far to rank Big Cat and PFTcommenter as the No. 1 sports media talents under the age of 40.
Notable guests from this year include J.J. Watt, Jim Harbaugh, Mike Tyson and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar. With guests of that caliber, it is easy to see why ESPN was interested in the partnership. Despite the 1 a.m. run time, “Barstool Van Talk” was always going to have some success because of the high-profile nature of the guests and the popularity of “Pardon My Take.” “Barstool Van Talk” gave a glimpse of its potential popularity by drawing 88,000 viewers for its sole episode aired on Oct. 18, a high number for a late night show on ESPN2.
The beginning of the end of “Barstool Van Talk” came the night of its first episode, when ESPN sideline reporter and NFL Countdown host Sam Ponder took to Twitter to express her displeasure with Barstool. She made it clear she was angry and upset and recalled a line from a blog post in 2014 by Barstool president Dave Portnoy that read, “F*** SAM PONDER THAT BIBLE THUMPING FREAK.”
Make no mistake, it is upsetting to see misogynistic and offensive comments in Barstool’s past. However, the blog has matured since its creation and has learned where to draw the line. Barstool writers are trolls on social media and on their blog. Even though they have matured, they start Twitter fights and make fun of anyone they can. ESPN has always known this, as evidenced by the cease-and-desist letter mentioned above.
The show had been in the works for months with the idea that ESPN talent would appear as guests in many of the episodes. With that in mind, the network should have known that the partnership could spur controversy and that some of its own employees would be unhappy. Assuming that there would be no backlash would be ignorant given the negative experiences multiple ESPN employees have had with Barstool.
In the end, the network’s breakup with Barstool will hurt its ability to promote its on-air talent. Although Big Cat and PFTcommenter acknowledged their friendships with Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo, they were clear that other ESPN talent would not necessarily be welcome, at least for the time being. Simply put, the cancellation of the show makes ESPN look incompetent and indecisive about what it wants to be.
Andrew Lombardo is a journalism major from Middletown, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lombardo_andrew.