The Summer of Stephen A. Smith & Mass Media Movement

The media world is fast-moving business and news can slip through the cracks as each day brings waves of fresh content. Similar to our annual Sports Media Awards, The Big Lead Quarterly endeavors to inform you of the most important developments in the space. Earlier this year we summarized Q1 and Q2. Below you’ll find a recap of the third quarter of 2023– from singular moments that reverberated throughout the industry to landscape-altering news items.

Dave Portnoy is back at the head of Barstool Sports

After building the foundation for Barstool Sports brick-by-brick, Dave Portnoy staked PENN Entertainment 36 percent of the pirate ship back in 2020 and the rest back in February of this year for north of a half-billion dollars. The sports-betting gold rush has yielded strange bedfellows but this one had the most public friction, culminating in the disputed firing of Ben Mintz in May, a personnel decision that subsequently resulting in PENN’s stock cratering. This rocky marriage came to an abrupt end in early August as wandering eyes led to PENN deciding to jump in bed with ESPN and rebrand its sportsbook to ESPN Bet. As part of the split, Portnoy was able to re-acquire his creation for the tidy sum of $1.

“We underestimated just how tough it is for myself and Barstool to operate in a regulated world,” Portnoy said in a video announcement that harkened back a more analog era of the upstart. “Every time we did something, it was one step forward, two steps back. We got denied licenses because of me. You name it. So the regulated industry [is] probably not the best place for Barstool Sports and the type of content we make. … I am never going to sell Barstool Sports ever. I’ll hold it ’til I die.”

Rarely do we see win-win-win situation outside of Michael Scott’s demented brain but, in the infancy stage of this triangular trade, it does appear that everyone involved will conceivably get what they want. PENN gets the more universally palatable four-letter partnership. ESPN gets to dive in headlong and fancy-free to a wagering world it resisted for years. And Portnoy gets the autonomy over Barstool that he once had and is perfectly comfortable yielding.

Oh yeah, and fans of the site get The Old Barstool back.

Barstool and Portnoy have been a confounding topic for mainstream coverage through their shared existence and every perceived act of aggression has been answered by defenders of the platform, going all the way to the top. That dance is sure to continue. The unicorn nature of the company’s growth, its missteps, and steadfast commitment to not be cowed is objectively fascinating — whether the content is for you, decidedly not for you, or if you don’t think it should be for anyone.

Josh Harris and Joe Buck share an awkward handshake

Josh Harris is the new owner of the Washington Commanders, and while he’s certainly an upgrade over Daniel Snyder, the private equity guru is just a tad awkward. Case in point: when he jumped into the booth with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on Monday Night Football things got weird.

Harris joined Buck and Aikman during a preseason game to discuss his purchase of the Commanders and his plans for the franchise. He stood there, with his hands awkwardly on his hips attempting to seem like a normal human being. At one point, Buck was preparing to ask Harris a question and stuck his right hand out, which the billionaire mistook as an offer for a handshake. He instinctively grabbed it creating an incredibly awkward interaction.

Both Aikman and Buck were amused but didn’t mention it because they’re professionals, dangit. But given the looks on their faces, you could tell they were holding back laughter. We’ve all been there in some way or another. This gave off the same vibes as when a server tells you to enjoy your meal and you automatically say, “You too.” Don’t worry Josh, we sympathize.

The Kevin Brown/Orioles debacle

Kevin Brown was on the call when the Baltimore Orioles clinched their first playoff berth since 2016. It was the first time since Brown arrived in Baltimore that the Orioles had been good and he politely noted something along those lines on July 23 ahead of the O’s first series win in St. Petersburg since 2017. Owner Peter Angelos did not like that. 

Brown was quietly suspended and was gone for a week before someone on Reddit wondered where he went. Eventually, Awful Announcing was able to confirm he had been suspended. The Orioles immediately looked like idiots and went from one of the feel-good stories of the season to a huge laughingstock. Just about every broadcast booth in baseball commented on what happened to Brown during their own games. Eventually, Brown was freed and allowed back into the booth to call the Orioles’ dream season, albeit with a new…

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