A beer with El Presidente
College students need to follow a lot of rules: study hard, get involved, apply for internships and don’t party too much. If we don’t follow these rules, we’re told that we won’t make it in the real world. There is an exception to every rule of course; and one exception to these constraints is Dave “El Presidente” Portnoy.
He owns what he calls the “largest independently owned sports blog on the planet,” BarstoolSports.com. The site is raunchy, uncensored and run solely by Portnoy. With comparable traffic to BostonHerald.com, the publication, which started as a newspaper, is now one of the most popular websites in the Boston area. Its news is trivial and as much about sports as MTV is about music, but the traffic continues to grow on Portnoy’s simple ideology.
“I’m gonna run it with no bulls**t. I’m gonna talk and tell everyone what I’m thinking,” he said while sipping a bottle of Sam Adams.
The entrepreneurial sports fan, gambling addict and blogger was born in 1977 and grew up in Swampscott, Mass. Following in his sister’s footsteps, he attended the University of Michigan. While he had no intentions of ever becoming a teacher, he majored in history education simply because the school of education did not have a language requirement.
“I did nothing extracurricular, nothing anything. I was just a typical f****n’ play Genesis all day, Sega all day [kind of guy]… and then I partied. That’s all I did. I did the least amount that I could possibly do and still graduate,” he said.
He did, however, start a gambling website.
“It was a joke,” he said.
He didn’t want to make money off of it; he didn’t even try to. It was just for fun.
After college, Portnoy worked in sales for The Yankee Group. He hated the nine-to-five grind.
A self-proclaimed “degenerate gambler” – he claims to have lost over $100,000 in his lifetime – he flew out to Las Vegas and interviewed with a handful of casinos with no luck. He then talked to a few offshore online gambling websites. They told him that if they could advertise in a newspaper, specifically not on the Internet, they would essentially give him a year’s worth of advertising to fund the paper. With that, Barstool Sports was born.
El Pres, as his fans, the Stoolies, refer to him, always wanted to do his own thing.
“Whether I did this or whatever, but when Barstool started, it had nothing to do with what it is now. It was really just gambling, fantasy football, and only four pages long,” he said.
He could tell from the get-go that the raw, uncensored style was a hit with his readers. He was almost immediately swarmed with e-mails.
He didn’t have a plan, and had no idea if there would even be enough money to keep it going.
“I just kind of stumbled my way through it and just followed what people liked. So it started as that and morphed into where we are today,” he said.
Portnoy hired girls from a promotions agency to hand out the papers – one of whom he eventually married.
Eventually, the paper became BarstoolSports.com. The site’s main audience originally consisted of “young professionals working in the Financial District [of Boston],” he said.
It wasn’t until he introduced the “Smokeshow of the Day” feature that he caught the eye of the college students he now claims as his staple audience. The segment features an exceptionally attractive local college girl each day, with pictures from her Facebook page.
“[College students] would see the Smokeshow, then they’d read the other sh*t and be like, ‘Oh, I like the whole thing,’” he said.
The other s**t is really a hodge-podge of material – everything from sex scandals involving teachers to videos of drunk beer pong dunks. The material comes from a combination of stories and videos he finds on websites such as Boston.com, BostonHerald.com, FoxNews.com and his favorite website (excluding Barstool), dlisted.com, as well as e-mailed story tips. Most of the e-mailed stories come from sites like DeadSpin.com, but he maintains that the “tips are the life-blood of the site.”
Of course with the nature of the posts, the risqué material draws a lot of negative attention.
“People who threaten us with lawsuits have no idea who we are. They think it’s a kid sitting in their basement… I have a pretty good handle on what we can do, and we very rarely step over the line,” he said.
So what does his wife, Renee, a.k.a. the First Lady, think of his job?
“She’s pretty cool with it. I have no game. She knows that. I’m getting old. It’s kind of like the Howard Stern model to a point. She knows what it is. I certainly play it up to a degree. As long as she can buy a new pair of shoes, she’s happy,” he said.
While on the surface, Barstool Sports seems like all fun and games, it requires a seven-day workweek for El Pres, who runs the site on his own from his simple Dell laptop.
“I wake up around 9 a.m., then I write all friggin day. That’s really what it is,” he said. “I go to bed at midnight just waiting for stories. We gotta do our ads, sometimes things come up, but it’s just non-stop in front of the computer.”
The 33-year-old never dreamed of doing this. Ideally he’d be playing professional baseball, because like he said, “Who wouldn’t f****n’ want to do that?”
Barstool has always been just based out of Boston, but recently the site branched out to New York, which now has its own site.
It might be because of the New York expansion, but Portnoy believes that Barstool is ready to take another step. He’s not exactly sure what that step is, but he would like to see Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago eventually have their own Stools as well.
Unlike most current jobs for writers and bloggers, the website has proven to be rather profitable for El Presidente. He started it to make money, not to write. Somehow he’s done just that without ever having to advertise or promote the site in any way – all readership comes from word of mouth. The site makes its money from advertising, which is all inbound – they contact him, he never asks.
Portnoy once attempted to interview Bill Simmons, an outspoken blogger who now works for ESPN. He ignored Portnoy’s requests over and over. Now that he has his own sports blog, which he says is much bigger than Simmons’ Digital City Boston ever was, Portnoy said that he probably wouldn’t follow in Simmons’ footsteps. But that’s only because he doesn’t think they’ll approach him.
“I don’t think I’d ever be asked to do something mainstream,” he said. “I think they would have asked by now. I don’t know what I’d say to that if someone offered.”
Portnoy will be at the University of Massachusetts this Friday, April 30 when he will bring his college concert tour, aptly named Stoolapalooza, to the Mullins Center. The show will be headlined by up-and-coming Boston rapper Sam Adams. If you don’t have tickets yet, you’re out of luck. Portnoy has posted that the UMass show is officially “sold the f*** out.”
Justin Gagnon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org