Kirsten Fleming

Kirsten Fleming


Ex-Barstool Sports CEO Erika Ayers Badan has a surprising new job: old one was ‘a heart attack every day’

She’s going from the frat house to the test kitchen.

Former Barstool Sports CEO Erika Ayers Badan (who formerly went by the surnameNardini) is taking on the same role at Food52 — the popular culinary, lifestyle and homeware company based in Brooklyn.

After news of her departure was broken by The Post in January, Ayers Badan said, she was approached by media, sports gambling and private equity firms. But she was looking for a pivot.

“If I was going to work in sports betting or entertainment, I would still be at Barstool,” she told me. “I knew I wanted to work in a space that was very different in terms of product, audience and business model.

“I knew I wanted to work with women after a decade immersing myself in 18-to 34-year-old males.”

Ayers Badan was at Barstool for nine years. Dina Avila for NY Post

Which means that Ayers Badan will no longer be “Token CEO” — the derisive label given to her by Deadspin in 2018, when they opined she had only been hired to “launder” Barstool’s bro-centric image.

Flipping a metaphorical middle finger, she reclaimed the name for her business podcast.

“I won’t be the ‘Token CEO.’ And I’m OK with it, she said.

She’s also OK with the fact that some people may be suspicious of the baggage that comes with having worked within Barstool’s controversial dude-centric culture.

“I am sure people will not like me because I came from Barstool,” she said. “If you don’t care to look beneath the surface, listen, learn and engage, I don’t have time for you anyway.

“I’m sure there will be a little bit of ‘What the f–k does she know?’ but that happened at Barstool too,” Ayers Badan said. Dina Avila for NY Post
“It was a heart attack every day for nine years,” Ayers Badan said of being Barstool’s CEO. Dina Avila for NY Post

“I’m sure there will be a little bit of ‘What the f–k does she know?’ but that happened at Barstool too…I really liked this company and where it came from,” Ayers Badan added. “[Food52 founder and former New York Times writer] Amanda Hesser and her best friend created it in her kitchen.”

She also said it’s not that much of a departure, given that her own Instagram feed is a “schizophrenic” mix of Barstool personalities and textiles, homeware and DIY accounts. Plus, she’s been a Food52 advisor for a few years and joined the board a year ago — joking that she’s been on an unpaid internship up until now.

The last few months have been filled with career and personal upheaval as well as life-affirming experiences.

Ayers Badan finished her book, “Nobody Cares about your Career: Why Failure is Good, the Great Ones Play Hurt and Other Hard Truths” (out June 11), left Barstool and traveled to Rwanda in February for a “palate cleanser.”

Hired during the original tenure of Barstool founder Dave Portnoy, Ayers Badan left earlier this year after he returned to the company. She said, “I’ll always be there for Barstool.” Annie Wermiel/NY Post

“It was a heart attack every day for nine years,” she said of her old job. “And I go to Africa and the birds are chirping. People smiled easily. I wasn’t on my phone at all. Everything melted away.”

But toward the end of her trip,she learned her father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died in late March.

“I idolized my dad. He had a lot of wisdom he gave me but was restrained enough to let me make my own mistakes,” she said, her voice cracking.

“It felt like such a gift that I had resigned, because I had so much stress. I went to Vermont,” where the New Hampshire native’s parents had moved, “to spend as much time as humanly possible with him.”

Ayers Badan has a career advice book coming out in June: Nobody Cares about your Career: Why Failure is Good, the Great Ones Play Hurt and Other Hard Truths.” Dina Avila for NY Post

Her book is focused on career advice via her own learned lessons, and she’s become an advice columnist of sorts — doing “one on ones,” appointments on Instagram in which she answers fan questions about workplace dilemmas. It helped put her own future into focus.

“A lot of times, in life and business, you hang on too long. I didn’t want to hang on too long,” said Ayers Badan who joined Barstool in 2016 and oversaw tremendous growth, including selling the company to PENN Entertainment for more than $500 million beginning in 2020.

Last August, founder Dave Portnoy bought the company back for a $1.

Ayers Badan stayed on board for a few months to help make things profitable again. But, she said, she missed the creativity of her early years at Barstool.

“I will always be there for Barstool, but the great thing is, they didn’t need me anymore. They had the playbook,” she said.

Dina Avila for NY Post

“We built a culture machine that we monetized seamlessly,” she added, describing the Wild Westatmosphere as entrepreneurial: “You could wake up and decide to go after something.”

At Food52 — which also includes the home-design brands Schoolhouse and Dansk — Ayers will “build community, content and media commerce … I really believe there is a way to tell stories on the internet and build a business that’s backed up with great products.”

What she doesn’t want to be: highbrow, elite or predictable.

After quitting Barstool earlier this year, Ayers Badan spent time traveling in Africa. courtesy of Erika Nardini
The CEO’s dad (seen here when Ayers Badan was a toddler) was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year, and she was able spend “as much time as humanly possible with him.” courtesy of Erika Nardini

“Barstool became the authority by not being the authority. We created a curation of talent that was unexpected and real, and I think that can apply to other worlds. Who are the biggest celebrities at Barstool right now? It’s [Portnoy’s rescue dog] Miss Peaches and Frank the Tank [the rabid Mets fan turned Barstool personality who Portnoy has described as a “Seinfeld” character]. Two creatures who came out of nowhere.

“I have high expectations and a real appetite for change,” she said. “I want results.”