The Barstool Sports offices are heard before they are seen. Raucous cheers and hollering permeate the elevator bank inside its Manhattan headquarters—the sound of an ever-rowdy 400-employee media company revving up for the day.
Located on the second floor of a nondescript building a few blocks from Penn Station, the offices are not as glossy as the standard New York publisher’s. Turning into the waiting area, visitors are greeted by oversized tchotchkes: a giant golden hamburger, a comically large golf ball and a life-size cardboard cutout of a shirtless muscle man with CEO Erika Nardini’s face plastered over his head. “Stoolie” insignia is everywhere.
The real-life Erika Nardini—clothed in a sharp blazer, sleeves rolled up to reveal her tattoos—presides in her office, just off the vestibule. She’s in her seventh year running Barstool, acting as the company’s steady business brain alongside its tempestuous founder, Dave Portnoy. During her tenure, Nardini has shepherded the company through both enormous growth and withering controversy, culminating in a $550 million acquisition by casino and racetrack company Penn Entertainment (formerly Penn National Gaming) that will finalize in early 2023. Portnoy and Nardini each received 45% cash and 55% Penn stock for their shares in the sale of Barstool.
One of the few women to helm a sports media company, Nardini has been integral to the company’s success, according to The Chernin Group partner Mike Kerns, whose firm sold its majority stake in Barstool to Penn. “Of all the players involved—Dave, TCG, Erika, the rest of the management team, leadership, etc.—I think that Erika deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the growth of Barstool. Full stop,” he said.
But along the way, Nardini has also been forced to reckon with a founder, and a Stoolie community, that is fierce in its passions and unchecked in its actions. By choice and circumstance, she’s become the designated grownup inside Portnoy’s digital “Animal House.” And while she’s not usually the one committing unsavory acts, she’s also not here to kill the buzz. “People are passionate about Barstool,” she said. “Most of them are rational people. We have assholes and trolls too. This is the nature of the internet.”