“Call Her Daddy”

Today’s case study comes from Barstool Sports and the “Call Her Daddy” podcast. Unlike the Tribune Publishing case study, this one involves high value employees.

Co-hosted by Alex Cooper and Sofia Franklyn, the “Call Her Daddy” podcast revolved around their sexual exploits as single 20-something women in NYC, interspersed with sex and dating advice. The podcast was an instant success, jumping from 12K to two million downloads in a mere two months. Their popularity continued to rise as they released more episodes, propelling them to the top of the podcast charts.

But trouble brewed. Cryptic notes began appearing on the girls’ Instagram feed. And then, all of a sudden, the weekly episodes stopped after April 8th, 2020. Speculation as to what had happened ran rampant until Dave Portnoy, the founder/president of Barstool Sports (their employer), posted a 30 minute, tell-all episode on Sunday. You can listen to it on Spotify (would recommend) or read Heavy.com’s summary.

While everyone is hashing out the juicy details on social media, let’s see what employment lessons can be learned from this one:

Know your value

I’ll repeat this commandment until I’m blue in the face and my fingers fall off, but there’s a reason why it’s the first commandment. Everything stems from having an accurate assessment of your value as an employee. If you don’t know your value, you cannot make informed career decisions.

We can see that the girls understood their (relatively high) value as Barstool employees, especially Alex:

A few months after the podcast started on Barstool Sports, Cooper asked Portnoy for a raise, citing the success of the podcast, [Dave] said.

The girls received the requested raise. However, when a second attempt to renegotiate (much) higher compensation at the one year mark was rebuffed, Alex and Sofia decided to…

Create and maintain optionality

[Dave] said, “That is when they started the trail, and the trail is exactly what everybody thought it was. They were shopping Call Her Daddy around, looking to go somewhere else, break their contract with us.”

Yes, they were under contract. Yes, this is a moral gray area. And yes, they were smart to create other options by shopping the podcast around. This is chess, not checkers. Having options further increases your value and leverage, which is quickly apparent when you realize that…

Everything can be renegotiated

Exceptions can be made to virtually any type of policy, such as dress code, working from home, travel expenditures, and much more. The only inviolable laws are the natural kind.

Employee Bible Proverb “Policies Are For The Powerless

You know what is not an example of natural law? A legal contract.

Whether the girls were aware of this, they were firmly in the catbird seat by the time they met Portnoy on his rooftop deck. Nationwide prohibitions against large events due to COVID-19 had temporarily halted live sports, which was devastating to a sports media network like Barstool. Not affected by the shutdown, “Call Her Daddy” provided a much-needed revenue stream. As a result, Portnoy capitulated:

Portnoy said the 50/50 deal included a $500,000 guarantee for each host, extra merchandise revenue and a contract shortened by six months. According to Portnoy, they had around 18 months left on their three-year contract with Barstool Sports. He said he would also give them the intellectual property for Call Her Daddy.

Honorable Mentions

Knowing your value, creating options, and realizing that everything can be renegotiated are the main lessons to be learned from the “Call Her Daddy” saga. However, it would be remiss of me to not call attention to other salient commandments:

  • Individually measurable performance – the podcast’s revenue was directly attributable to the two co-hosts.
  • No company loyalty – Alex and Sofia rightly had no loyalty to Barstool. Whether they should’ve had any towards Dave Portnoy as a person is a different question and impossible for a third-party observer to determine.1A friend with firsthand knowledge tells me that Portnoy is a cool dude. Remember – you should never be loyal to companies, but should be loyal to people who deserve it.
  • Ask forgiveness, not permission – The girls (unsurprisingly) did not ask Dave whether it was okay for them to shop the podcast around. Plenty of time to say sorry later.

You would think that this (albeit developing) story would have had a happy ending for Alex and Sofia. After all, they made a lot of astute decisions as employees. Why are their asses in a sling right now then?

Well, they overplayed their hand, for one. The correct play would’ve been to accept Dave’s rooftop deck offer with gratitude, keep talking about blowjobs on behalf of Barstool for 12 more months, and then enjoy the spoils of free agency. Instead, the girls decided to invade Russia during the winter:

Cooper and Franklyn did not take the deal, and they “went dark.” Portnoy said that he couldn’t get a hold of the women or their lawyers for days.

But perhaps more importantly, the girls didn’t play the long game. You should be self-interested, but only in the long run. And it is in your long term self-interest to establish and maintain a reputation that causes other people to want to work with you.

Instead, based on Portnoy’s version of events, it appears that unprofessionalism and immaturity drove much of Alex and Sofia’s behavior, rather than a well-designed strategy. Potentially-irreparable brand damage was the consequence.

05/23 update: Alex released her side of the story on Youtube yesterday, explaining that she wanted to take Dave’s rooftop offer. Portnoy confirmed that Barstool had reached a new agreement with Alex to continue the show without Sofia.

Sofia took some bad advice from people without skin in the game. Now she’s lost a best friend and an easy road to !@#$ you money.

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