Is This Really Boston’s Next Media Mogul?

Yes. His name is David Portnoy. And he’s building an empire – one blog post (and one babe) at a time.

Depending on which numbers you look at, the value of Barstool Sports is anywhere from $220,000 to $900,000. Impressive, but nowhere near that of anything in the Gawker Media stable of properties (which includes Deadspin), and it’s unclear how much El Prez is taking in. Maybe he doesn’t even really know. “Our revenue is all over the place — it comes and it goes,” he says. “Our books are a mess.” This much is known: His five employees do not yet get benefits (Portnoy hopes to offer them this spring, he says), but the company was able to front at least $120,000 for Barstool-sponsored events this year. It has also been doing a brisk business selling merchandise. In October, one T-shirt netted the company $50,000 in three weeks. On a personal level, El Prez seems to be doing okay. His wife wears a sparkling two-carat engagement ring, and the newlyweds just bought a 2010 Audi Quattro.

The most important measure of the company’s success, though, is the traffic numbers, which continue to rise dramatically. In 2006 BarstoolSports .com was seeing about 100,000 unique visitors monthly. Since then, the audience has been growing at a compound rate of 86 percent year over year. Today, the Boston site attracts 1.4 million unique visitors a month. Such growth has earned Portnoy notice from large media corporations. Recently, the Philadelphia-based entertainment behemoth Comcast approached Portnoy to discuss the future of the site. For such companies, acquiring a niche-market blog — with a distinct brand, fanatical readers, a built-in audience, established traffic, and a platform to expand into other cities — is often cheaper and easier than starting one from scratch. Portnoy is not philosophically opposed to selling out. “I’d sell it in a heartbeat if someone offered me $10 million,” he says.
IT’S MISCHIEF NIGHT, the night before Halloween, and the line to get into the sixth annual Barstool Sports Wicked Halloween Party at the Harp near TD Garden is 50 people deep. Earlier in the day, El Prez warned ‘Stoolies to get there early — “it’s going to fill up fast” — and by 8:30 p.m., the place is packed with an army of costumed, well-lubricated college kids. Over the course of the night, at least 1,000 additional ‘Stoolies will show up — and get turned away — because the Harp hit its capacity of 700 people.

Inside, Portnoy can hardly make his way through the crowd. A gaggle of girls approach him and start to chat about their costumes. Before they can finish, three ‘Stoolies lean in with their hands out. “Hey, Prez, great to meet you!” they yell, with the sort of excitement usually reserved for meeting the actual president. A group behind them is waiting to take a picture.

“I’m bigger than the Beatles!” Portnoy yells at me.

While I’m waiting in line for the restroom, one girl shares that she’s visiting from Connecticut. “My boyfriend is a big fan of Barstool. He’s been reading it for years,” she says, blinking blankly through her purple spider eyelashes.

On the stage, Paul Gulczynski, the site’s sales rep, is dressed up as Ben Roethlisberger and wearing one of the company’s most tasteless — and popular — pieces of merchandise: A black-and-gold T-shirt displaying the number 7 surrounded by the words “Throwing Picks, Assaulting Chicks.”

Close to midnight, it’s time to go. As I leave, I check out the line of twentysomethings hugging the wall outside the bar. Only one thing has changed since I arrived. It’s grown longer.