Image: Alexandra Cooper

“In just two years, ‘Call Her Daddy,’ a raunchy podcast about sex, dating, culture and life in New York” that was launched by (former?) best friends Sofia Franklyn, 27, and Alexandra Cooper, 26, in 2018, “became a cult sensation.” According to the New York Times, the podcast cultivated a massive following after it was “acquired by Barstool Sports about a month after the first episode aired,” jumping from 12,000 downloads to a whopping two million in a matter of two months, and landing it on the list of of the “top 20 most popular” podcasts on Apple’s podcast service.

At the same time, Franklyn and Cooper, the podcast’s no-holds-barred hosts, garnered loyal fans of their own, a group of individuals, mostly young women, who have come to be known as the “Daddy Gang.” With such bona fide – and likely only growing – podcast fame in hand, and nearly 2 million Instagram followers between themselves, Franklyn and Cooper decided to “shop the podcast around to other networks,” according to Barstool Sports founder and president Dave Portnoy. In addition to seeking out a new home for the podcast, itself, the hosts were also reportedly seeking out other ventures, as well, such as book and/or television deals.

The problem with these potential new ventures? While the Cooper and Franklyn could up-and-change networks, depending, of course, on the terms of their contracts with Barstool (they have a three year deal with Barstool that does not end until next year), and branch out in terms of the format of their offerings, they would not be able to take the “Call Her Daddy” name with them, as the trademarks for the podcast – and essentially the brand they have had a strong hand in helping to build – are exclusively held by Barstool. 

Shortly after Barstool acquired the podcast (namely, its one already-recorded episode and its intellectual property rights) in 2018, the now-17-year old media company, which is headquartered in New York, began building out the brand. This saw Barstool give the podcast and its hosts “name-brand recognition, and access to a larger audience,” as well as its “million-dollar marketing machine,” thereby, helping to majorly boost its audience. At the same time, the company’s counsel started filing trademark applications for registration for “Call Her Daddy.” 

The company has been filing new applications since, looking to register the “Call Her Daddy” name in connection with a growing pool of goods and services (i.e., not just entertainment services and podcasts but clothing and accessories, alcoholic beverages, and glassware), presumably in furtherance of an attempt to build the show and its hosts into an even bigger brand for Barstool to bank on. (According to Barstool founder and president Dave Portnoy, the pretty 20-somethings were paid pretty handsomely, each making almost $500,000 in 2019; he claims to have since offered them “a guaranteed base salary of $500,000 a year, plus bonuses, among other incentives that he estimated would ultimately net them millions, to return to the show,” the Times reports, as well as “a way for them to get the intellectual property.”).

Seemingly with expansion mode in mind, Barstool is also seeking to amass registrations for the mark “Wednesdays Are For Call Her Daddy” for use on entertainment services and podcasts, as well as flags, “Daddy Gang” for most of the same goods/services, and even the word “Daddy,” on its own, for a jewelry venture. 

Looking beyond the initial Cooper and Franklyn versus Barstool breakdown – which the Times says has involved weeks of contract-intensive disputes between the women and the media company, a fight that prompted Portnoy to call Cooper and Franklyn, who have seemingly since fallen out over drama related to the podcast deal, “unprofessional, disloyal and greedy” – and the uncertain future of the “Call Her Daddy” podcast, there is another burgeoning body of trademarks that Barstool wants to claim as its own: ones that are being born from the parties’ highly-followed drama. 

As the Times’ Taylor Lorenz wrote this week, after Cooper and Franklyn did not upload new podcasts for three weeks in a row amidst the contract drama, fans were left wondering, with no shortage airing their thoughts on social media. “Fans began tweeting the hashtag #FreeTheFathers, speculating that the hosts were being silenced by their parent company, Barstool Sports,” Lorenz states, noting that “fathers” is “an affectionate nickname given to the ‘Call Her Daddy’ hosts.” 

Presumably seeing an opportunity to parlaying the burgeoning drama –  which is playing out on social media as we speak with Portnoy sounding off in videos on the official “Call Her Daddy” Instagram account, Franklyn breaking her silence on her own account, and countless media outlets dedicating articles to the feud – into a bankable (and brand-able) moment, Barstool is selling branded merch and filing even more trademark applications for registration. 

This week, Portnoy revealed that Barstool will begin selling merch with the slogan “cancel suitman,” a reference to Franklyn’s boyfriend, HBO Sports executive Peter Nelson, who reportedly helped the two hosts pitch their podcast to other networks, and “Free The Fathers.” While the Barstool has not filed trademark applications for “cancel suitman” (yet), since the public breakdown between Cooper and Franklyn, and Barstool, it has filed a half a dozen applications for “Free The Fathers,” which it intends to use on merch and … podcast services, of course. 

In terms of the future of “Call Her Daddy,” Portnoy says the Cooper will likely return and that Barstool has made an offer to Franklyn. As for what this squabble means on a larger level, it certainly seems to suggest that while trademarks are a large part of the value of an endeavor, they are not the whole picture. The talent at play is an equal part, which means that such situations “touch on much larger questions about media institutions and talent, Nicholas Quah, the founder of Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts, told the Times. And maybe most importantly, questions about how those two things come together to “create value and contracts with each other.”