In a Hawaiian shirt covered with the New England Patriots logo and topped off with a fake-flower lei, Griffin Whitman patrolled the outskirts of Gillette Stadium in search of tailgaters.
Whitman, holding an Antonio Brown cake in one hand and a microphone in the other, asked strangers to predict New England’s record for the year. Fans answered unanimously in their Boston accents “19 and oh.” He also gives a set of fans the chance to spike the Antonio Brown cake.
This scene and countless other similar ones appear on an Instagram account run by Whitman. For fans, it’s just another blood-pumping and adrenaline-rushing opening game. Whitman is trying to make a living off of their enthusiasm.
Whitman and friends Josh Berenson and Jake Yasi — the former two Syracuse grads — started sports media company LFG Sports in April 2019. With a mission statement to “disrupt the media industry,” LFG Sports has gained a fanbase of over 11,000 followers on its Instagram account. It’s gone viral – with posts and gimmicks getting picked up by the mainstream media – and have created content everywhere from the Carrier Dome to the Sugar Bowl.
“I try to imagine it as if ESPN and Barstool had a baby it would be LFG Sports,” Berenson said.
Berenson and Whitman first met each other through the same pledge class at SU’s chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon. They bonded over a love for sports and eventually became roommates.
Whitman, now the chief executive officer of LFG, coined the idea of creating a sports media company dedicated to the fan-side of sports, such as fans’ reactions in stadiums, tailgates and bars.
“At an LSU and Oklahoma game, we got a video of this fan saying go f*ck yourself,” Berenson said. “We eventually realized that this is legitimate news reporting and special since we’re reporting it live.”
But LFG isn’t in the journalism business. The founders are unabashedly fans that hate Kyrie Irving, the New York Yankees and anyone in the Patriots’ way.
Berenson, a double-major in supply chain management and entrepreneurship while at SU, joined due to his desire to start a company and became LFG’s chief operating officer. Whitman then recruited Yasi, a Boston University graduate and a close high school friend from Swampscott, Massachusetts, who became the chief creative officer.
Their first video, posted in late March, was Whitman with a GoPro high-fiving college football fans. The video’s Instagram caption labeled LFG Sports as “by the fans, for the fans,” mirroring Barstool’s longtime motto of “By the Common Man, for the Common Man.”
After travelling around the country for different sporting events on the east coast and in the midwest, LFG Sports is trying to find its niche among a crowded sports media field. Daily, they compete with Barstool and publications like Bleacher Report on social media.
“People, of course, are like ‘you’re just trying to be Barstool,’ and we certainly have the same type of model as them, but we’re our own brand,” said Whitman. “We are LFG Sports, not Barstool Sports. We go out and do crazy things.”
To save money, LFG only goes to popular or desirable games, Berenson said. Most of the time that includes Boston teams, but recently they’ve gone to the Week 16 matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys that decided the NFC East and the AFC Divisional Round game between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans.
The majority of their profit – which comes solely from merchandise at this point – is spent on travel expenses and game tickets. LFG received an original logo through an online competition on Design Crowd, but its graphic designer Edan Michener has created multiple versions of the company’s logo. The sports media company has participated in a few minor events with sponsors in the past and plans on establishing partnerships in the future. Whitman expects the company to operate in a deficit “for the next couple years.”
The trio also used their personal money to get game tickets when they weren’t gifted. Whitman, Berenson and Yasi have given out corn to people at Nebraska football games, brought a piñata of former Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper to their World Series Parade and even created “coward” posters aimed at Irving.
Originally, the LFG Sports collective wanted a poster that called Irving a liar because of his broken promise to re-sign with the Boston Celtics. However, Irving sat out that Nov. 27 game at TD Garden because of a shoulder injury, so LFG printed posters with a red stamp over Irving’s face reading “coward.” At the bottom of the poster, they plugged their social media accounts.
ESPN reporter Malika Andrews sent out a tweet showing the poster, and eventually it went viral. Days later, LFG posted a since-deleted article stating that Irving made a burner Instagram account, which was clickbait, according to Whitman.
They hope to do another TD Garden stunt when Lebron James – who LFG also despises – and the Los Angeles Lakers visit the Celtics later in January. But Whitman won’t reveal his plan. “It’s a secret,” he said.
“We’re going to Boston right now because that’s what we’ve known and grew up with,” Yasi said. “Once we hire more people who understand their own fan base they’ll be able to create their own ideas, like I can’t go to a Nuggets game and understand their fan base.”
To eventually eliminate bias, LFG hopes to bring in more media personalities from across the country. Its goal is to have an ambassador in every major sports city in the next few years while keeping their headquarters in Syracuse — a location that’s a centerpoint between the east and midwest, Yasi said.
LFG now travels around in a Cruise America RV, one they hope to customize down the road. Whitman spent time on Monday in New Orleans making content from the BCS National Championship.
“I wake up every day and I’m excited to get after it and help build this thing and help it grow and just do it, doing it with my best friends too, said Whitman. “That’s the best part about it.”