By Ilyse Liffreing

Sports media company Barstool Sports has always leaned on its defiant and polarizing nature to grow its brand, led by the example of its provocative founder Dave Portnoy, and its latest stunt is proving that its rambunctious style works on its audience. But at what cost? Experts say Barstool Sports could still be in legal trouble and, at the very least, provoke anger from the very individuals it covers, even if it doesn’t do harm to its fanbase.

In a series of tweets to his nearly 1 million followers on Tuesday, Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool Sports, threatened to fire any of his employees who seek to unionize.

The dispute began when Portnoy resurfaced a blog post he wrote in 2015 that shared his anti-union stance in response to the news that the editorial staff at sports-culture site The Ringer would unionize. Live Science staff writer Rafi Letzter and lawyer Matt Weir sent out tweets of support for Barstool employees who would like to unionize, and Portnoy shot back with threats:

“If you work for @barstoolsports and DM this man I will fire you on the spot,” reads Portnoy’s tweet referencing Letzter’s post. He made a similar threat with Weir’s tweet. If taken at face value, they’re a clear violation of U.S. labor law. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 states that employers cannot “dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization.”

The Twitter firestorm that erupted next turned into the rambunctious media company’s PR dream. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted to her 5.1 million followers: “If you’re a boss tweeting firing threats to employees trying to unionize, you are likely breaking the law and can be sued.” The New York State Department of Labor and the AFL-CIO also responded. Donald Trump Jr. then fired back on Twitter, taking the side of Barstool Sports: “Picking a fight with @stoolpresidente and @barstoolsports is probably the biggest mistake @AOC has ever made on Twitter.”

Outlets from The Washington Post to Deadspin to Time covered the news and “Portnoy” became a trending topic on Twitter. Barstool Sports, which is majority owned by the Chernin Group, did as it has in the past and egged the critics on. Throughout the day, the publication and several employees leaned into they what they claimed to be a big joke, posting articles, videos and photos of what it would look like if Barstool Sports were to unionize. Employees also started a fake Barstool Sports Union @BSSUnion Twitter account, copying The Ringer’s exact statement for unionizing.

Portnoy himself also tweeted back at Ocasio-Cortez writing: “Hey @AOC welcome to thunder dome. Debate me,” and posted an image of a shirt of his face with the words “union buster.” Barstool Sports is now selling the T-shirt online for $28.

Christopher Lehmann, managing director at brand consultancy Landor, says the move won’t derail the publication’s fanbase, which is there not only for the sports but also for its particular form of comedy.

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Via:: Ad Age B to B