A few years ago, a friend announced that he was pivoting from writing to podcasting, and when I asked why, he told me that it was because while the stodgy publishing world was bogged down with rules and best practices—write a book, query agents, wash, rinse, repeat—the podcast world was basically the wild west, where everyone was just making shit up on the fly and there were no real rules. But as we all know, too many independent drifters shaking rock pans in the same stream looking for gold means no one person gets rich, and so Eden sank to grief, podcasting fell to contract feuds, nothing gold can stay, etc.
Which brings us to the drama over the fate of Call Her Daddy, a hit for Barstool Sports until recently, when a shootout over money and ownership has most likely killed the entire enterprise.
Call Her Daddy began in 2018 as a podcast in which two twenty-somethings, Sofia Franklyn and Alexandra Cooper, talked about fucking in a way the listeners found refreshingly candid. And just one month after the first episode aired, Dave Portnoy’s sports-themed online harassment factory, Barstool Sports, picked up the show, promising the podcast founders a tiered three-year contract, offering them each salary of $75,000 the first year, with incremental salary boosts for each additional year. The podcast immediately became a hit, earning two million downloads in its first two months, which is where the drama begins.
As their podcast very quickly became one of the most popular in an increasingly crowded field, the Fathers (what fans call Franklyn and Cooper), realized Portnoy and company might be paying them lower salaries than their male colleagues who hosted less successful shows. A real shocker coming from a company whose founder called female sportscaster Sam Ponder a “fucking slut” on-air.
In a lengthy YouTube video, Cooper says that she and Franklyn received bonuses after their first year, but by her own admission, Cooper says she took a secret bonus from Portnoy that same year for her work editing the podcast. She also says that Franklyn was always uncomfortable with the fact that Cooper did “more work” on the show.
And that is where HBO Sports comes in. Sofia Franklyn is dating executive vice president of HBO Sports Peter Nelson, who is called “Suitman,” on the podcast. In June 2019, HBO Sports ran an episode of Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel critical of Barstool and its checkered past of being very shitty to women, which could signify the beginning of Portnoy and Nelson’s feud or be pure coincidence, just putting the facts out there.
In her YouTube video, Cooper claims that Nelson helped the podcast hosts comprise a list of outrageous demands as their podcast went into year two, when the show came to account for 35 percent of Barstool’s revenue. The demands included million-dollar salaries for each host and all intellectual property rights. In return, Barstool eventually came back with $500,000 a year offers that included rights to the show in an infamous rooftop meeting with Portnoy. Cooper says Franklyn stalled on the contract, demanding what Cooper says were outrageous asks encouraged by Nelson and which were tantamount, in Cooper’s estimation, to Franklyn attempting to blackmail her into leaving Barstool to start a new podcast elsewhere—perhaps at the behest of Nelson.
On April 8 negotiations seemed to have reached their breaking point, when Cooper and Franklyn released an episode called “Kesha...The End.” True to form, Portnoy released his own 30-minute screed on the “Call Her Daddy” feed calling the duo “unprofessional, disloyal and greedy.” He then released “Cancel Suitman” merch.
In a May 19 video, Franklyn accused Cooper of stabbing her in the back, saying that Cooper ultimately wanted to “control the show” rather than be 50/50 partners, which by Cooper’s own YouTube admission of taking secret bonuses, seems at least partially accurate.
Meanwhile, Portnoy, perhaps worried that not enough headlines around the saga contained his name, alleged in a string of Memorial Day weekend social media posts that Suitman had his good friend Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber’s manager, currently battling Taylor Swift over rights to Swift’s music) called Barstool CEO Erika Nardini to beg a bigger piece of the pie on Franklyn’s behalf. Braun denied making the call in a since-deleted Tweet, and then Portnoy posted a video to Instagram of himself barefoot and on a call with a penitent Braun in which Portnoy promised not to Tweet about Braun’s involvement anymore. It’s all so dumb!
While not much has been heard from Franklyn—whose last Instagram post was six weeks ago—Cooper’s May 22 YouTube video “The Truth About Call Her Daddy” accuses Franklyn of entering into bad-faith negotiations with Barstool, aiming to get fired so that she can walk away with intellectual property rights to the show and putting her boyfriend above her career. The video seems to imply that the show will go on without Franklyn.
“I didn’t have a boyfriend make my decisions,” Cooper said in her video. “I had to make my decisions myself.” Cooper took the $500,000 deal and will host the podcast without Franklyn. So that seems like the end of that.
All this drama is manufactured by the Barstool drama factory to make even more money by splitting Cooper and Franklyn then setting them up with competing sex podcasts, as Blake Robbins, partner at a venture capital firm, speculated might be the case at the New York Times:
“A lot of companies would try to sweep this under the rug and put out a press release, but in this new world of media where these people are huge personalities, people expect transparency,” Mr. Robbins said. “This is a Barstool gold mine. They want these story lines. They can now create these competing podcasts between the ‘Call Her Daddy’ hosts, and I have no doubt that both would do really well.”
And while high stakes and booming budgets may be the end of the wild west era for podcasts, at least we still live at the beginning of a gold rush for throwing money at people who will entertainingly fight each other to death in the media for it.