After just one episode, ESPN announced Monday it’s canceled Barstool Van Talk. The show was on ESPN2 in the 1 a.m. Eastern time slot and had its debut episode on the network October 17.
ESPN President John Skipper said in a statement that “effective immediately,” the comedic sports show was removed from the network.
“While we had approval of the content of the show, I erred in assuming we could distance our efforts from the Barstool site and its content,” Skipper said in the statement.
Barstool Van Talk was hosted by personalities Dan “Big Cat” Katz and PFT Commentor, who have a popular podcast called Pardon My Take. It was a satirical show which contained jokes about sports and interviews inside the duo’s staple vehicle, “Vanny Woodhead.”
The first episode featured ESPN personality Scott Van Pelt, while the second was set to feature Dan Patrick.
The cancellation comes after a week of backlash by some viewers and employees at ESPN. Big Cat, PFT and producer Hank released a joint statement following the cancellation, saying they were “very disappointed” to hear the news.
“We had a great time working on the show and were extremely excited about the future,” the statement said. “Thank you to all the Award Winning Listeners/Watchers for supporting us, and thank you to all the great people who worked alongside us at ESPN and Embassy Row.”
Big Cat tweeted that he was “beyond heartbroken” to hear his show had been canceled.
PFT, in his typical comedic way, also tweeted his disappointment.
The cancellation comes as a surprise, as the first episode of the show did solid ratings for its time slot, doubling the previous audience compared to a four-week average. It drew more than 88,000 viewers and was the No. 2 show on ESPN2 for October 17, behind ESPN’s First Take, which airs during the afternoon hours.
In the past, Barstool Sports has received criticism for being at times misogynistic and offensive. On Thursday, Deadspin reported that ESPN wanted the show to distance itself from the history of Barstool Sports, which includes offensive blog posts and some content.
When the announcement that ESPN picked up the show was made, ESPN’s Sam Ponder “welcomed” Big Cat and PFT to the ESPN family by accusing Barstool of calling her derogatory names in the past. Ponder tweeted screenshots of a blog post on Barstool that calls her a “Bible-thumping freak” who’s only on TV to “make men hard.” She tagged Big Cat in the post, saying: “Welcome to the ESPN Family @BarstoolBigCat (& welcome to all ur minions who will respond to this so kindly).”
The post in question wasn’t made by Big Cat or PFT, but still appears on Barstool’s website. It was made on July 2014 by Feitelberg and Barstool president Dave Portnoy. They were commenting on a past Ponder tweet that said: “Blogs/websites that constantly disrespect women and objectify their bodies, then take a strong stand on the Ray Rice issue really confuses me.”
Ponder also referenced a segment from a 2014 podcast called “The Rundown.” In it, Portnoy and Big Cat ranted about Ponder and her job performance. At around the 8 minute mark, Portnoy mentions Ponder “slutting it up.” Listen to the audio from the segment below:
After the first airing of the show, Ponder said she was “disappointed that (ESPN was) promoting a company name that still maintains support for horrific personal attacks against multiple women within ESPN.”
In response to the comments, Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and scheduling, called the comments referenced “offensive and inappropriate,” but said the network intended to stick with the 30-minute program.
“As stated previously, we do not control the content of Barstool Sports,” Magnus said in a statement. “We are doing a show with Big Cat and PFT, and we do have final say on the content of that show.”
It’s unclear if Ponder’s criticism led to the cancellation of the show, but Skipper’s statement seems to imply the content she was referring to played a role.
Barstool CEO Erika Nardini defended the show and platform, saying it’s a “comedy brand that’s been on the internet for 15 years and not for everyone.”
Barstool has grown a significant amount recently, but started as a satirical sports and men’s lifestyle blog founded by Portnoy in Milton, Massachusetts over a decade ago. It first launched as a print publication and was distributed in the Boston area to give readers gambling advice and fantasy sports projections. As it continued to grow, it added other components and rose dramatically in popularity.
On January 7, 2016, Portnoy announced that The Chernin Group purchased a 51-percent majority stake in Barstool at a $10-15 million valuation, and it subsequently moved its headquarters to New York City. Part of the agreement was that Portnoy continued running the website and retained creative control over the content.
According to Alexa.com, Barstool is currently ranked as the No. 414 most popular website in the United States and 2,116th globally.
In early October, Elika Sadeghi, who has been offered a two-year contract with Barstool, said she decided to turn it down because of a clause in her contract. Without disclosing the name of the company, she tweeted the contract and said she refused “for multiple reasons.”
The language said that employee must be comfortable working in an environment where she may be exposed to “offensive speech (e.g. their work, scripts or roles that involve nudity, sexual scenarios, racial epithets, suggestive gestures, profanity and references to stereotypes).
Portnoy was quick to defend the contract and Barstool, saying it’s a necessity so the company doesn’t get sued for jokes deemed offensive by employees.
“If we’re sitting in a writing room and we’re tossing around all sorts of jokes and trying to be funny, we definitely make off-color jokes,” Portnoy said. “It’s just to basically know you acknowledge what you’re getting yourself into.”
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