In the middle of the 2016 baseball season, Fox Sports reporter Emily Austen made an appearance on a Barstool Sports videocast. In the videocast, Austen said several offensive comments. Although Barstool tried to protect her and delete the video, her comments were live and cost her her job at Fox Sports and left the Rays without a sideline reporter for the rest of 2016.
This season, the Rays organization has become more active on social media. By and large, this has been a good effort. But in May, the Rays got into a tiff with Barstool JJ, a Barstool writer who covers the Yankees. Who reached out to who first is up for dispute – the Rays tweeted that JJ reached out first, JJ tweeted that the Rays reached out to him first. JJ’s shtick is food reviews, and his food review at Tropicana Field was enjoyable. But JJ’s comments on twitter have proven to be troublesome for the Rays and Rays fans.
And more recently, after a provoked attack by a troll account with 3 followers:
Early last week, I had a brief conversation with the Rays social media director. I expressed my disappointment with the Rays reaching out to social media personalities who have not been friendly to the Rays, Rays fans, or Tropicana Field. He thanked me for my thoughts and said it was part of an effort to get the brand out there.
Understandable, if the brand is portrayed correctly and positively.
Two days after our conversation, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria appeared on a Barstool videocast with platform founder Dave Portnoy. In another food review video, Longoria and Portnoy reviewed a NY City pizza place. Again, the food review was good, but Portnoy’s comments about the Rays were questionable at best. Three times in the opening minutes, Portnoy deliberately called the Rays the “Devil Rays”. He even did it after Longoria corrected him, stating “They will always be the Devil Rays.”
Years ago, the Rays would write letters to bloggers to inform them of their name change. They even encouraged a $1 donation to charity for every mention. That was 9 years ago. For a media personality to still use “Devil Rays” in front of Rays player is disrespectful to the team, the player, and completely counter to getting the brand out there the right way.
This is not an attack on Barstool itself. I’ve been in the sports blogging scene for over 10 years. I’ve been linked on The Big Lead and on Deadspin and even wrote a cameo post for Deadspin. (I even had a mini beef with Deadspin about their treatment of Rays fans in 2008.). I know bro-tastic, chauvinistic, dude-culture, slightly sexist websites will always exist. Barstool has it’s niche, just like Maxim, FHM, Stuff, and thousands of other media outlets that have come and gone catering to the dorm room, barracks, guys’ locker room, 16-24 male demographic. Personally, I am over 30, so my bro-culture days are behind me. But there is an audience and they spend money or view pages or click ads or whatever Barstool needs to survive.
Coincidentally, on the same day Evan Longoria was on Barstool giving his opinion on pizza, Barstool featured the beach pictures of a USF student named Taylor. While Longoria was asked his thoughts, Taylor wasn’t. Is she a Rays fan? What does she think of the team? What does she think of USF Football? Those opinions probably don’t matter for Barstool’s target audience.
But again, this is not an attack on Barstool’s business model. It is critique of the Rays and the organization’s ongoing cooperation with Barstool. I have been told that since getting capital investment from The Chernin Group, Barstool has attempted to clean up their media platform. It is a classic case of morals following money, but that’s life online. However, Barstool and the people affiliated with them will always be who they are. And who they are is not a media platform a sports organization trying to grow an inclusive and diverse fanbase should be affiliated with in any way, shape, or form.