Author James Andrew Miller joined Jimmy Traina on the latest episode of Off the Board to discuss the short-lived ESPN-Barstool Sports partnership.
Miller, who wrote the New York Times best seller Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, shared his thoughts after speaking to executives and others at the Worldwide Leader. According to Miller, one thing is very clear: The one and only reason President John Skipper abruptly ended the partnership with Barstool Sports was because of pushback from ESPN employees, led by Sam Ponder's tweets.
Here are some excerpts from the podcast with Miller.
On how many ESPN employees complained about dealing with Barstool:
"Some of the people I heard from were complaining and they called asking me to write something about it and I asked had gone to management yet and they had not. So let’s break that down into groups like Sam, that were very very vocal both internally and externally about the issues they had. To get to a number, there was a second group that was very, very upset with it, but had not gone to management as of yet. I think if Skipper hadn’t pulled the plug when he did, you would’ve seen, I believe there was at least one attempt to start a letter amongst employees."
Why didn't ESPN address all these issues when they made a deal with Barstool and not after the first episode aired:
"I’ve been told that there was some effort to reach out to people in advance of the actual announcement to say, 'Look, we understand that this might look problematic, but we have these assurances about the podcast and the show and we want you to know we have secured them and that’s not gonna be part of the larger brand.' On the one hand, they did anticipate the problem. I think what ultimately became the bigger problem … I just didn’t think they were gonna be able to navigate keeping the show and the podcast distinct from the larger brand. Those guys have done an amazing job building up that brand and that brand identity, to the point where it’s very very hard to say, you know, “We’re the Yankees, but we don’t spend a lot of money and we don’t wear pinstripes.”
Did using the name "Barstool Van Talk" instead of "Pardon My Take" hurt the show:
"I think that ultimately there was just too much connective [to Barstool] tissue for the ESPN community. I think that at the end of the day, the people who were upset about it, you could’ve called it Hank’s Car Wash and they still would’ve said, 'you’re not fooling us and we can’t live with this.'"
Were ratings a factor. If the debut episode did 150,000 viewers instead of 88,000, would it still be around:
"No. … I don’t think the numbers had anything to do with it."
Would it be too simple to say this came down to whether ESPN wanted to side with Sam Ponder or "Pardon My Take" hosts, Big Cat and PFT:
"I think it's a tad too simple. Sam certainly had the gumption, or according to some, the temerity. She was very decisive and very vocal and came out strong. But I think that she did that on behalf of herself. certainly. and. I haven't spoken to her about this, but I know for a fact there were many other employees, particularly women, who were very very upset with it. She was a champion for them. ... My only point is if she hadn't said it, there were other people there upset about it. Whether or not they would've had the gumption or ability to go out and do what she did, I doubt it, but it was bigger than Sam. I know for a fact that the movement to get it out there was bigger than Sam."