Sports media: Barstool Chicago crew takes its game to the full-time
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For six years, four friends sat in their office cubes during the workday, wading through the minutiae of their jobs.
Ryan Brandell worked in marketing and sales for a beverage-packing manufacturer. Ed Farrer worked for a video-production company. Mike Sterk was an accountant at an insurance firm. And Dave Williams handled trucking logistics.
But they were constantly being tugged to a far more fun — albeit freelance — job.
They are the voices of Barstool Chicago, a sports and entertainment website. To their followers, they’re known as Chief, Eddie, Carl and White Sox Dave, respectively. And after six years of blogging on the side, they became full-timers in January, when Barstool Sports opened an office in Ukrainian Village, its first outside its New York headquarters.
‘‘We’d sit around and text each other during the day how much better life would be if we all worked together for Barstool Chicago,’’ said Sterk, 31. ‘‘It’s kind of realizing that dream.’’
They came together in 2012 under Barstool Chicago creator Dan Katz (aka Big Cat), who was hired by Barstool Sports founder David Portnoy. Katz became a star and went national, hosting Barstool’s popular podcast ‘‘Pardon My Take.’’
Meanwhile, the Chicago contingent created its own following through its blog and ‘‘Red Line Radio’’ podcast, which began in 2016. Since going full time, the crew introduced ‘‘The Chicago Dog Walk,’’ a daily podcast that examines everything in Chicago but sports.
‘‘It’s very hard to really be up on everything when all of them had other full-time jobs and commitments,’’ Portnoy said. ‘‘They really proved and earned the right to do this full time and take it to the next level.’’
Admittedly, they don’t cover Chicago sports in the traditional sense. They’re fans of the teams they cover, and they share their opinions about those teams, often quite colorfully.
‘‘We don’t really need press credentials; that’s not what we do,’’ said Williams, 30. ‘‘We’re going to give our opinions as fans. That’s why there’s a connection between our audience and us.’’
On their website, they promote local sports talk ‘‘by the common man, for the common man.’’ But that hasn’t prevented them from connecting with big names and bringing them on their show.
‘‘There’s this big mystique around sports and media and the access to it,’’ Sterk said. ‘‘So White Sox Dave, to his credit, has built a relationship with [Sox general manager] Rick Hahn, where they have this inside joke where they call each other friends. They have that level of communication and trust that Rick knows that Dave is gonna represent him well.
‘‘Our aspiration is to build that trust and then bring it to our audience as if they’re sitting in the room with us because, ultimately, that’s what we think differentiates us. There are people who can look at the work we’re doing and say, ‘Yeah, these are just like my friends.’ It’s a bigger pull here with how the Barstool brand interacts with people.’’
But that brand has a negative connotation to some, stemming from the top with Portnoy. He has been accused of promoting sexual harassment online, which Barstool followers, called Stoolies, often perpetuate. Portnoy sees it differently, having said he adheres to different standards running a comedy website. Just who’s laughing is another matter.
The Barstool Chicago guys naturally pledged their allegiance to the brand, but they said they’re not always in lockstep with its ways.
‘‘We have the freedom to disagree with people at the head of us and build our own brand and steer clear of certain things,’’ said Brandell, 32. ‘‘We know there’s some stigma out there attached to Barstool, but I think as people get to know us, they’ll realize that a lot of that is noise.
‘‘We’re four regular Midwest boys. It’s going to be hard for people to attach some of that to us because we haven’t been a part of that and we’re not interested in being a part of some of the controversy. We support the parent company, but we’re allowed to be ourselves.’’
They have a lot planned with more time to devote, including a Chicago softball show in the vein of HBO’s ‘‘Hard Knocks.’’ Whatever they come up with, they know exactly what they want to be and whom they want to represent.
‘‘Basically, the voice of the young guy in Chicago,’’ said Farrer, 28. ‘‘If you look closely, the voice of the fan is missing, and that’s what we really want to capitalize on.’’
Illini move games to WLS-AM
The University of Illinois announced Monday that it’s moving its football and men’s basketball games and corresponding coaches’ shows from The Score to news-talk WLS-AM in the fall. The agreement is for five years.
From 2005 to 2013, the Illini aired on another news-talk format, WIND-AM, which didn’t do a lot for their profile in Chicago. But WLS program director Peter Bolger said the agreement includes airing weekly features and the potential for more programming depending on the teams’ postseason success.
The force behind Illinois’ move was increased conflicts with the Bulls, whom The Score picked up a year ago from WLS. The Illini are WLS’ only sports property, so their days of being bumped are over. But these arrangements can be cyclical. Before WIND, Illinois was on The Score from 1997 to 2005.
ESPN 1000 program director Adam Delevitt said the Illini approached his station, but it wasn’t in a position to consider them because of commitments to Notre Dame football and men’s basketball and ESPN’s many properties.
Rozner leaves The Score
Barry Rozner, a weekend and fill-in host on The Score, is leaving the station. Rozner, who co-hosted the baseball show ‘‘Hit & Run’’ with Joe Ostrowski on Sunday mornings, had been with The Score for the last 10 years.
‘‘Barry was a terrific teammate to everyone here,’’ operations director Mitch Rosen said. ‘‘Barry and I have been talking for a while, and he decided it was time to walk away from the show. The show will continue with Joe O and a host to be named later.’’
Rozner always has been a wonderful listen. With almost 35 years at the Daily Herald, he has provided great insight and stories — about Chicago sports and himself — with an endearing, self-deprecating humor. He’ll be missed on the airwaves.