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November 17, 2020

Podcast No. 99: Erika Nardini, Barstool Sports CEO, on Authenticity & Tuning Out Critics

This week’s WHOOP Podcast guest is the trailblazing Erika Nardini, CEO of Barstool Sports.

By Will Ahmed

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Erika Nardini is one of the most influential women in sports. She has overseen Barstool’s growth from 12 employees to hundreds and has helped establish the brand as one of the most recognizable in sports and beyond.

In this episode Erika discusses how she landed her dream job in a male dominated field, her views on developing talent and allowing them the freedom to express themselves in an authentic way, and dealing with a barrage of criticism and why Barstool isn’t deterred by that.

Stay healthy and stay in the green!

 

Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini Podcast Show Notes:

2:11 – Path to Barstool. “I thought I would toil in the trenches of marketing forever,” Erika says of her career before landing at Barstool Sports as the company’s first CEO in 2016. “What they needed were things I had been doing for 15-20 years.” Erika served as the Chief Marketing Officer at AOL and as the President of music startup Bkstg before Barstool.

5:12 – Landing Her Dream Job. “I left the meeting [with the Chernin Group] feeling really jealous because I felt like they would go find an MBA or someone who came from sports or a white guy to go run [Barstool].” Erika then used a college connection to get a meeting with Barstool founder Dave Portnoy. “I loved him and we clicked from the very beginning. The rest has been history.”

6:46 – Working With Dave Portnoy. “The thing I love about Dave is he’s extremely humble about Barstool Sports. Anybody who has really met Dave would say he’s very honest and very direct. I love that about Dave. The thing that’s great about Dave if you have the good fortune to work with him is that he has this rare quality where he knows a lot, but he doesn’t pretend to know what he doesn’t know. He doesn’t have interest in owning things for the sake of owning things or control. He actually was this fantastic combination of someone who was so brilliant and such a good promoter and who had built something he was so proud of and had given his life to for the last 15 years at that point, but he genuinely wanted someone to help him get it to the next place.”

10:13 – Authenticity of Barstool. “Barstool is authentic because it just grew up chaotically and organically and haphazardly. Even when I got here and we added a little bit of structure, it still was kind of haphazard and chaotic and to this day it’s haphazard and chaotic. That’s what makes something authentic.

15:59 – The Barstool Way. “We’ve created this playground for [our talent] to be very, very free and to create what they see fit, as they see, how they see fit. I don’t think that exists in most places in content because people are afraid of controversy or they’re afraid of the advertisers or they’re afraid of perception or their rights. We’re not afraid of any of that. … We’ve created a safe space for comedy and that’s something you see less and less of now.”

20:57 – Business Philosophy. “If you’re going to be as ballsy as we are you have to have some flexibility built into your business. How you make money, where you put people, you have to be able to move in that.”

22:19 – Cancel Culture. “The thing about cancel culture that’s really depressing I think is that there’s this desire for perfection and there’s this desire for uniformity and there’s a desire for silencing and there’s a desire to have things or people or ideas that you disagree with completely eradicated. I think that’s very dangerous because then you’re in a culture where there is no debate, there’s no disagreement, there’s no dialogue, there’s no friction. … Progress comes out of friction.”

25:20 – Living in a More Politically Correct Time. “In some ways it’s really great. The level of sensitivity has evolved, the social conversation has evolved, we are creating more opportunities for more people from more places, that’s all awesome. But I don’t think that 80s movies should disappear. I don’t think that John Wayne was a bad cowboy because he was a jerk in what he had to say. Look, I think people are human and they are fallible. They have moments of greatness and moments of tyranny and moments of horribleness by the day. You can’t erase that. Culture and society is made up of people.”

29:19 – Defying the Critics. “I knew I was coming into something that most conventional people didn’t like. They felt it was a very bad move for me career-wise,” Erika says of taking the CEO position at Barstool. “When someone pushes against you, it gives you something to push back against. It’s good to have resistance. It made me feel like I had only one choice, which was to succeed.”

34:46 – Trusting Her WHOOP. “WHOOP is still ahead of me. It could be very telling about what I should and shouldn’t be doing and I’m just learning to trust my WHOOP. I’m in that phase. I like how much data it gives me. I’m learning to trust it. WHOOP is like another relationship.”

36:47 – Identifying Talent. Erika breaks down her philosophy for hiring talent for Barstool Sports and explains why there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for finding people to represent their brand. “Talent is talent,” Erika says.

38:52 – Call Her Daddy. Erika talks about how the company landed the Call Her Daddy podcast, which exploded into one of the most successful podcasts on the planet, despite having little to do with sports. “We found two people who just had it. They were electric. It was two gorgeous girls talking about sex in an incredibly woke and raunchy way. It was nothing anyone had ever seen. We had to have them.”

39:20 – Interviewing President Trump. Barstool founder Dave Portnoy recently interviewed President Trump, a move that generated a lot of criticism towards the company. “I think for a company at our stage, to get that opportunity to interview a sitting President of the United States … I think you have to take that opportunity.”

Connect with Erika

The Token CEO Podcast
@EKANardini on Twitter and Instagram
@BarstoolSports on Twitter and Instagram
Barstoolsports.com

 

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance. WHOOP today works with everyone from professional athletes to fitness enthusiasts to executives. Ahmed has raised nearly $100 million from top investors and has an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, and designers. He wrote “The Feedback Tool: Measuring Fitness, Intensity, and Recovery,” which sparked the underlying physiology and engineering for his work today. Ahmed was named a 2011 Harvard College Scholar for finishing in the top 10% of his class and a CSA Scholar Athlete; he captained the Harvard Men’s Varsity Squash Team. He was also recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40.

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