The NWHL’s “Barstool Problem”

A piece this week on For The Win outlines what it calls the NWHL’s “Barstool problem.” For essential context, read Courtney Szto’s “Misogyny 101” on Hockey In Society.

It has been fascinating to see the stream of bad-faith Barstool boosters reacting to this drama on social media. A common theme is dudes going “I never even heard of this league before Barstool posted about it; they should be grateful for the attention.” As if all attention is good and welcome!

There are two conflicting philosophies of growth here. In the Barstool model, a larger audience is always better, no matter who’s in it, or how toxic it becomes. There’s no penalty, in this way of thinking, to pandering to the lowest common denominator, as long as it draws a crowd. The problem is — for a media company like Barstool and a sports league like the NWHL — your audience is not a separate thing from your product. Its makeup defines you. If your bar turns into a neonazi hangout, you should agonize over where you failed and how to fix it, not celebrate the market niche you’ve found.

The NWHL understands this. Its players, being young women in the public eye, are positioned to understand it particularly well:

The NWHL has done an admirable job of growing the right kind of fan community. It’s smaller than Barstool’s at the moment, but its values are healthy and clear. Here’s hoping for their continued success.

And here’s hoping they achieve it without interference from the kinds of creeps who’d point a firehose of sexist, racist trolling at you and expect you to appreciate “the attention.”

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