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Q&A: Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy talks #BillsMafia mini-documentary

Multi-million dollar sports and entertainment media company Barstool Sports unveiled a 10-minute mini-documentary on #BillsMafia Tuesday, highlighting the likes of "Pinto Ron," Bills tailgaters doing Bills tailgating things and more.

Barstool founder Dave Portnoy chatted with The Buffalo News about how the idea came about and what went into the production of the film. Some questions and answers were slightly modified for clarity.

The Buffalo News: How did the idea come about to start a series of mini-documentaries?

Dave Portnoy: We're all kind of fans of documentary styles in general, so it's something that Barstool, I feel like, there's a certain subject matter like #BillsMafia that maybe wouldn't be covered by mainstream media but speak more to our voice.

It was always something that we wanted to get involved in and do things that weren't necessarily – we're very personality driven here at Barstool – so something that is more brand-driven and we didn't necessarily need one of our guys to be somewhere but we could do it.

So it was a combo, to cover stories that we thought were very pertinent and interesting to our crowd without necessarily having to send direct people, like use our talent to cover it.

Five takeaways from Barstool's #BillsMafia documentary

BN: Why #BillsMafia to start the series?

Portnoy: We brainstormed and it was just such a perfect fit we think for our demo. I've been to Bills games at Ralph Wilson and we're a Northeast brand, so I feel like Buffalo is very much in our wheelhouse for the fans of our website.

And even the Northeast, most people who read Barstool are familiar with the tailgates, familiar with #BillsMafia, have been there. It really is a phenomenon. There's nothing quite like it. It just seemed like a natural fit for Barstool Sports and our brand and we've seen it every time we've been there.

We get all the videos sent to us time and time again of different people doing different things and it really just seemed like the perfect thing to do something in-depth on.

BN: From the initial idea to publishing, how long did the production process take?

Portnoy: Ooh, it took a while. I'd say that documentary probably was about six months, between finding out who we're gonna shoot, getting in contact with them, going to Buffalo to shoot it, coming up with the voice narration. The voiceover was written by us, so it took a long time to put the thing together.

BN: How did the formatting come together (to have chapters, etc.) to be more scripted than some of the other stuff you guys do?

Portnoy: I think that's documentary style, but it started with, 'What did we get for footage?' So we hired basically a professional documentary crew to go out and film it.

They obviously weren't as familiar with #BillsMafia as we were, so we wrote down all the things we thought #BillsMafia was or that we wanted to capture major moments in #BillsMafia history, if that's what you want to call it. We gave it to the film crew and told them to go get as much as they could. And then once they came back with it, we kind of organized it.

"Pinto Ron" was one of the characters of Bills Mafia featured in the mini-documentary. (Screenshot courtesy of Barstool Sports)

BN: Did your perception of Bills Mafia change at all over those six months?

Portnoy: It was pretty similar. I think my perception of #BillsMafia, maybe what I thought about it, changed when I went there. I do think it's maybe a little more – maybe not delicate – more detailed or there's more to it than you may think originally.

I think it's more than just throwing people through tables, so to speak, and you kind of get that side with the Pinto Ron ... it's not just young, drunk kids throwing each other through the tables. There's a lot more to it. I kind of realized that I guess when I went ... I really think it's kind of reflective of Buffalo in general and I think some people do get Buffalo people, I don't wanna say mad, but I just think there's more to it.

It's not as simple as just, again, you get thrown through a table. I don't think that's it.

BN: Are the next mini-documentaries in the series going to be similarly fan-based or could we see a different direction in terms of theme?

Portnoy: You could see anything. Some could be theme-based. Some could be fan-based. Some could be incident-based.

A couple ideas that we are banging around, like Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend. So basically we're going for stories like that, that were big moments that really resonated to our crowd and kind of are inherently humorous. The fact that Manti Te'o thought for a long time that he was dating, like, a fake girl and then that she died and did the tribute and the girl never existed. I mean inherently that's funny. Like that, to our crowd that's a funny thing.

But when you put almost like the Bills Mafia spin on it, where you have the old NFL Films-type voice talking about somebody getting thrown through a table. It inherently we think is humorous and that's kind of what we are. We mean these things to be humorous.

They don't even all have to be sports-based, like the Charlie Sheen phenomenon when that "Winning" went nuts to Gilbert Arenas and the gun incident in the locker room ... we're looking for stories that maybe were really big for Barstool and our type of vibe and voice that the mainstream media may cover for a day but then kind of goes away but for us, people are still talking about, still joking about to this day. If we sell a shirt for it, like we sold for the Manti Te'o, "Play like your dead girlfriend died today," like "Play like a champion today." If we sell a T-shirt, that probably means we thought it was a huge event that resonated with our crowd.

BN: What do you hope the inclusion of these mini-documentaries does for Barstool's growth?

Portnoy: Hopefully more people will find out about us through these. I think if you live in the Buffalo area and you're not a Barstool fan, you'd probably still find your way to see this documentary since they're talking about your team.

It almost goes to the earlier point. We really want Barstool Sports to be a brand that means something. It doesn't just have to be myself ... you see the logo, that bar stool and the stars around it, and you know you're getting a certain type of vibe, a certain type of brand.

And for us, growing it just takes us into a new area. I think this looked different than a lot of things we've put out, like highly produced, highly professional, highly scripted. They're really interesting documentaries that can stand next to anybody else doing this type of stuff.

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