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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Renegade Barstool Sports Luring Talent From Downsizing ESPN

  • Josh Drew joining Barstool after 11 years at ESPN.
  • Barstool is hiring talent from MLB, Fox, Meta, and Spotify.
Dave Portnoy Erika Nardini
Barstool Sports

The times are a-changin’ in sports media. 

The formerly outlaw Barstool Sports is becoming a destination job – while ESPN downsizes and sheds veterans with decades of experience.

In the latest news, Barstool is hiring ESPN’s Josh Drew as its new Senior Talent Producer, Sports, effective July 10. Drew has spent the past 11 years as a producer at ESPN.

Barstool has grown from a brash disruptor to a mainstream media platform, like or hate them.

Barstool would be interested in hiring more talent thrown overboard by the ESPN “mothership” as it expands its live-streaming sports coverage.

The brand’s social media following is up 36% to 220 million year over year. 

It’s now streaming over 100 live sporting events per year, including the annual FDNY vs. NYPD hockey game, the Arizona Bowl, and the Korn Ferry golf tour’s upcoming NV5 Invitational. 

In August, “Pardon My Take” co-stars Dan “Big Cat” Katz and “PFT Commenter” will lead a 40-strong contingent to Chicago to launch a new office.

On Apple, Barstool now boasts the No. 1 sports podcast (“Pardon My Take”), No. 1 hockey podcast (“Spittin Chiclets”) and No. 1 golf podcast “Fore Play”).  

“As Barstool continues to be a dominant player in the media space, we have become an employer of choice in tech, media, sports, and entertainment,” said spokeswoman Debra Duffy. 

“Talent is seeking out Barstool, and we have hired from Spotify, META, MLB, Fox Sports, ESPN, and many other competitive companies, spanning all divisions within Barstool.”

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Drew said his pending jump to Barstool is not connected to the ongoing layoffs at ESPN.

“The timing was purely a coincidence. I can’t say enough good things about my time at ESPN and I hope nothing but the best for my friends and colleagues there,” he wrote in a message. “I simply took an amazing opportunity, with an established, successful and growing company in Barstool and hope that I can add to the incredible culture that has already been there.”

Meanwhile, a contracting ESPN is wrapping up a cost-cutting “talent exercise” that’s seen big names “SportsCenter” anchor Neil Everett and NHL analyst Chris Chelios head for the exits. 

Everett starred at ESPN for 23 years. More on-air layoffs involving big-name talents are expected to emerge in weeks to come. 

On Wednesday, the New York Post reported ESPN Radio was scrapping the “Keyshawn, JWill and Max” morning show co-starring Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Max Kellerman. With Pat McAfee joining ESPN this fall, Kellerman is also expected to lose his afternoon TV show, “This Just In.”

Some on-air ESPN TV/radio talents are simply not going to have their contracts renewed, said sources. The lucky few will be bought out of their deals. They will get full pay – but at least ESPN can write their contracts off the books.

Also, on Wednesday, ESPN launched a sweeping reorganization of its executive ranks.

President of Content Burke Magnus is consolidating content duties under two key executives: Executive Editor & Head of Event and Studio Production Norby Williamson and Head of Event and Studio Production Dave Roberts.

Williamson will oversee NFL programming, while Roberts will oversee ESPN new deal with “The Pat McAfee Show.”

Stephanie Druley, the former lead executive on NFL programming, will shift from production to become the head of content operations. Laura Gentile, executive vice president of marketing, is leaving to launch her own business.

“Since assuming my new role in March, I have spent a significant amount of time contemplating how we can more efficiently manage our large, highly complex group and be even more strategic, collaborative and successful,” wrote Magnus in an internal memo. “Our people are hands-down the best in the business – and my goal will be to grow and build upon what you’ve already accomplished.”

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Only five years ago, then ESPN president John Skipper cancelled the late night “Barstool Van Talk” after only one episode. Now big-name ESPN talents like Scott Van Pelt are frequent guests on Barstool programming.

The slow-motion layoffs are causing growing resentment within ESPN. Compared to multi-million talents like McAfee, Troy Aikman and Joe Buck, many veterans feel underpaid and overlooked.

“With the exception of a few people like Stephen A [Smith] and [Pat] McAfee, we all feel expendable. It’s sad,” said one source.

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