Keith Markovich is a very popular guy. A mere 30 years old, he is Editor-In-Chief at one of the more popular sports opinion websites, “Barstool Sports”. The site is snarky, often profane, loaded daily with insults, espouses a good amount of what many consider to be sexism, has been quite often accused of being little more than a bunch of angry male cyberbullies who revel in calling women fat for amusement, and was recently at the center of a very public ESPN gaffe. The powerful sports network handed Markovich and his cohorts valuable air time with their own show, which because of the negative history and reputation of those who own and work at the site was pulled off the air after only one day.
Not exactly what some would consider a good media strategy for branding and profitability. But to be fair, it’s worked. The site has grown from being little more than a Boston-based website collection of beer buddies screaming about sports to a very profitable enterprise. They found a niche by reaching a certain audience, exploited it, and have become a player in global clickbait for writing and espousing controversial views.
Full disclosure here. Starting in 2004, I hosted “Sport Pulse”, a live nightly cable sports program on Comcast based in Boston. The founders of “Barstool Sports” were on my show twice. We were looking for new faces and voices in the New England market. I picked up a copy of their free newspaper and thought they might provide an edge to the usual commentary.
Boy, did I get this one wrong.
Their comments and behavior made some members of my staff uncomfortable, both male and female. One woman approached me and politely said, “Please don’t have those assholes on our show again”. I give most everyone a second chance and did so here as well. But after the second visit, and what I found to be little more than crude commentary aimed at an extremely low level of intellect, I banned them from appearing on the show. This was a direction shared by Comcast CN8 management at the time.
A good part of that decision was based on not wanting my personal brand, and that of our show, to be connected in any way with the crude and insulting brand they were creating and promoting. It was obvious from the personal interaction these were not the type of people I would want to associate with, nor subject our viewers to.
As a media strategist, my job is to consider what is best for the client. If any client wanted to be featured and connected with Barstool Sports, our discussion and plan would have to include a dispassionate and complete investigation of who and what they stand for. What the client wants is imperative, but that must also provide them all the facts about where their message and brand will be connected.
I would have to ask the client if they are comfortable having their face, their name, their brand, connected and promoted by a website that seemingly finds nothing wrong with a grown man labeling a 16 year old cheerleader as “hot”. An opinion and comment that can be taken as salacious, more than a little creepy, more than a little questionable, and in today’s society viewed as sexually insulting and perhaps even predatory.
As their media strategist, I would advise against any connection with Barstool Sports or any web site, platform or media outlet of the same ilk.
There is nothing to be gained by a reputable individual or company seeking positive promotion than being instantly connected with the website run by someone who was digitally and textually leering at an underage girl. Who then failed to issue a meaningful apology, staying in caveman character with his response.
Ariel Olivar, the young lady in question, received a great amount of attention and legitimate media coverage for her “invisible step” dance move. The various videos and coverage showcased her talent and ingenuity to millions around the world.
And one guy decided to make it more about a 16 year old girl being “hot”, and then refusing to apologize for the slap.
“Media Strategy 101” is about using the legitimate media to your advantage. It’s about creating and executing a well thought out plan to deliver your message and your brand to the outlets that will help you succeed. It’s also about our managing your message by ensuring it doesn’t get to the clickbait profiteers. If it does, we step in and ensure you still come out on top without a scratch.
We would never recommend any client seek to be associated with an outlet the likes of Barstool Sports.
The reasons are obvious.