You’re scrolling through Instagram. A candid catches your eye. Two boys in black cowboy attire attending an ASU football game hold a sign that says "Show Me Your TD’s!!"
The comment section is flooded.
“Never seen so many guys flash till last night”
The cowboys bask in the horizon of maroon and gold, captivating the crowd's attention after ASU’s Sept. 24 loss to the Utah Utes.
You decide to click the account handle and navigate to its main page — the point of no return.
Students are kicking exit signs until they fall. Ceiling tiles coat the floor in the hallways of the Hassayampa Academic Village dorms. Three guys are lugging a Barrett sign around campus. A plethora of students give their kudos to those daring enough to send in their content.
With one click, you have come across Tempe Barstool, a direct affiliate of Barstool Sports, the digital media company known for reporting on sports and pop culture for a national audience of college students.
Neither Barstool Sports or Tempe Barstool has responded to State Press Magazine’s request for comment at the time of publication.
When Tempe Barstool made its first Instagram posts in 2015, it was known for its ASU-related sports content. Since then, the brand has surpassed over 300,000 followers on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter combined. In seven years’ time, over 2,000 posts have been shared through the affiliate’s Instagram account, putting everything from dorm vandalism and drunken stunts to cringe-worthy "Tinder Tuesday" messages and niche sports memes on display.
Tempe Barstool’s content is slowly moving away from athletics, establishing itself as a media hub where students can share a wide range of raucous entertainment. The account has most notably gained traction for sharing what could be considered common college shenanigans — if serious injuries and felonies can be noted as such.
Calling itself “ASU’s private story,” Tempe Barstool aggregates content made by and for the ASU community, asking Instagram followers to send in their “funniest videos, drunk moments, and ASU highlights” for a chance to be featured on the infamous page.
Setting the bar
In 2003, Dave Portnoy created Barstool as a print publication specific to sports betting advertisements. The publication became accessible online in 2007.
In 2016, Portnoy gave up a majority of his ownership over Barstool after accepting an investment from The Chernin Group, an entertainment investing firm, but he kept 100% oversight over the company’s projects, Forbes reported in 2017.
Although this deal caused many to doubt Barstool’s future, Portnoy saw the partnership crucial to thriving in the digital era. Since then, Barstool has ventured into other projects, including a sports bar chain, podcasts, merchandising and, of course, social media.
While Barstool is among some of the most popular sports media outlets — competing with ESPN, The Chive and Bowl America — both Portnoy and the company have faced backlash in recent years for creating content that platforms hypermasculinity, hypersexualizes women and diverges from its purported original subject matter: sports.
In August 2022, Barstool Sports had an estimated value of $450 million, with Portnoy’s net worth reaching around $100 million. According to Legal Sports Report, a site that reports on fantasy sports, Barstool gathers over 54 million monthly visitors (as of May 2022) across its website, app, social media pages and video content alone, raking in upward of $178 million in revenue through venture capital funding, reported by CrunchBase in 2020.
‘Harvard of the West’
Littered throughout Tempe Barstool’s feed of campus candids is a recurring pair of sunglasses floating above a white beard. Their owner has been recorded vaping on zoom calls, embracing a student in the middle of a lecture and in the center of BeReals.
Matthew McCarthy, an ASU lecturer and professor of nearly 20 years and author of “How to Avoid F*cking Up in College,” is a regular feature on the Tempe Barstool account.
McCarthy, like many others, said he followed Barstool for "the original Dave Portnoy: sports and everything around it." But his opinion of the platform has been tarnished by its recent shift to user-supplied content.
“You can see drunkies at Hassayampa pushing people down staircases and destroying stuff,” McCarthy said. “I think they’re looking at their analytics and they go: ‘Hey, we’re getting a lot more likes and clicks if we show the stupid stuff.’”
Throughout McCarthy’s almost two decades at the University, he’s seen the rise of social media from the very beginning and radical changes in his students’ behavior as it has become more prominent in everyday life.
“My opinion is: everyone’s a content maker,” McCarthy said. “If you’re on Fox News, your real job is to sell adult diapers and pharma products. And when social media started doing that, then people started to say, ‘Wait a minute, I can make money at this too.’”
In September, Tempe Barstool shared a video of three unidentified ASU students carrying a Barrett, The Honors College sign pulled out of the ground. The on-campus incident made its way to the ASU Police Department, which is now using a portion of the video to seek information about one student, whose face is visible in the clip.
An ASU PD spokesperson said in a Nov. 7 email that the investigation is still ongoing, and no arrests had been made at the time.
The photo was posted on the police department’s Twitter page, asking other ASU students to share information they have regarding the individual’s identity. Instead of filling the comment section with pertinent information about the issue, students have taken the liberty of directing ASU PD to various dead ends, mentioning people like former ASU football head coach Herm Edwards, University athletic director Ray Anderson and actress Keke Palmer.
Others tried to bargain in exchange for information: “So what? There’s no incentive?” read one reply. “free tuition and I’ll give you all the info you could want,” read another.
“There’s not really another place on social media that can do what Tempe Barstool does,” said Blake Warner, a civil engineering student. “They have a very unique outlet, and have a huge following that helps bring everyone together as a community.”
Warner is a fan of Tempe Barstool’s content, but believes some of the videos shared are up for debate in terms of entertainment. “Sometimes they post stuff that’s a little questionable, but for the most part, it’s pretty funny stuff,” he said.
When asked about specific posts he considers to be “questionable,” Warner responded with several examples. “Posting dumb stuff, like people who break the exit signs, or stuff like that where there isn’t any humor to it and doing more harm than good. But it’s only a small percentage of their posts,” he said.
In October, residents of Tooker House racked up over $10,000 in collective damages to 11 exit signs, 125 light covers and 13 resident door signs. An email detailing this information was sent to ASU parents, saying the entire building must pay if the student at fault is not identified.
While Warner concurs with other sources about Tempe Barstool’s content shift, he believes what it is choosing to include in its Instagram feed is just a reflection of business. “Although they still post a decent amount of sports, it depends on the season and how good the teams are. I think Barstool as a company is just trying to universalize all their content, so I’m not really surprised.”
“Me and my roommates made it a goal to somehow get on Tempe Barstool, just because it would be funny,” said Alex Pleskovitch, an ASU sophomore studying marketing who was featured on the Tempe Barstool account performing an "ollie" on a food delivery robot. “Everybody loves those little robots, and I just thought it might be a good way to get on there,” he continued.
The video was included amid other miscellaneous tomfoolery: shirtless "chapter" boys waving their flashlights and singing in the middle of a lecture. Students jumping in an elevator at max capacity. A hickey resembling the Air Jordan logo. But despite a multitude of content from various one-time features, Pleskovitch's video was among the most popular in the comment section:
“Whoever ollied Wall-E thank u”
“That ollie over Wall-E sent me”
“My man with robot ollie!”
Pleskovitch elaborated on his decision to send in a video that could be self-incriminating to Tempe Barstool: “I would never have sent anything if I thought I’d get in trouble for it, especially with the school because I don’t want to mess up any of my tuition or education.”
Facing potential consequences was never Pleskovitch's main concern. “I didn’t break the robot," he said. "I didn’t do anything that’s worth getting in trouble for, so I felt fine sending it in."
As far as anonymity goes, Pleskovitch is fine with people knowing him as the "robot ollie" guy, replying to comments on the Tempe Barstool post that tagged his Instagram handle.
“I was trying to do that all year," he said. "I was trying to find one of them rolling so I could get a video of it. People thought it was funny, so I thought I’d take credit.”
Behavior beyond the screen
While Tempe Barstool has stirred up a slew of opinions within the ASU community, the questionable content many college students interact with online may have long-term effects on their behavior.
Deborah Hall, an associate professor at the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, believes social media trends seen online — specifically ones enticing people to perform physical stunts or vandalism around campus — can promote reckless or dangerous behavior.
“I think some of the appeal of viral internet trends, particularly among younger populations, is the riskiness of it,” Hall said. “Younger social media users are sometimes exposed to incredibly risky behaviors they wouldn’t even think to perform on their own.”
Barstool Sports overwhelmingly captivates a male audience between the ages of 18 and 34, who spend up to a combined 45 million minutes every month interacting with Barstool’s content, the company said.
Hall’s research investigates both social and group identity, specific to relationships with social media. With Tempe Barstool, the names of those who are featured in videos are mostly kept secret, unless they are shouted out in the comment section.
The direct messages between students who send in content and the Tempe Barstool account are ‘masked’ by the social media personas we hide behind. While anonymity can negatively impact our integrity online, Hall said it does not necessarily keep our words and actions secret.
“Not having to engage in real life, face-to-face interactions with others allows people to sort of drop their guard or not hold themselves to the same moral standards,” Hall said. “Perceived anonymity of online interactions can give people the perception that their behaviors are somehow less identifiable.
“But on the flip side, once you post something online, you’re no longer the sole person in control of the dissemination of that content,” she added.
According to ASU’s housing policies and procedures, a student who participates in vandalism or destruction of any kind will face a charge to their student account, or a split charge among the entire residence hall if the individual at fault fails to come forward.
While online anonymity can cause some students to disregard the weight of their actions, holding students accountable is different for every situation.
“From a technical perspective, it is getting harder and harder to be anonymous online,” said Stephen Carradini, an assistant professor in ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Carradini has spent his career analyzing digital ethics and professional communication through social media, and is familiar with Tempe Barstool’s content.
“There’s so much on the internet; this is a problem of content moderation,” Carradini said. “There’s always going to be a level where we say something’s bad, but it’s not bad enough that we’re going to take action.”
Edited by Camila Pedrosa, Alexis Moulton, Sam Ellefson and Greta Forslund. This story was published on Nov. 17, 2022.