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Barstool Sports is set to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2023. But what started as a voice-driven sports blog is betting that it can complete a transformation into a digital media power player, with live events, reality shows, podcasts and other entertainment fare.
On Wednesday evening, Barstool executives and talent were set to make that pitch to advertisers at New York’s Webster Hall, outlining a content road map that is broad in ambition.
One of the pillars of Barstool’s new content push is an expansion into live sporting events. While Barstool isn’t going to be paying $1 billion for NFL rights, the company has strategically inked deals for college sports, and now to televise the annual FDNY-NYPD charity hockey game.
“What you are going to see is that sports can be covered differently, broadcasts can be conceived of differently, and the experience around it can be done differently,” Barstool CEO Erika Nardini tells The Hollywood Reporter. “My hope is that this takes us into a new stratosphere in terms of not only the things this company can do, but the way brands can work with us.”
For starters, in November, Barstool Sports will create its own men’s college basketball tournament, the Barstool Sports Invitational, from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Akron, Mississippi State, Toledo and University of Alabama at Birmingham are committed to participate.
“We will broadcast it, we will drive all of the sponsorship around it and we will cover it and create it in a way that blends comedy, entertainment and live sports in a way that I think will feel really different and resonate with that younger audience,” Nardini says.
Then on Dec. 30, Barstool will broadcast the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl, leveraging its talent, including founder Dave Portnoy, to cover the game.
And in April 2023, the company will broadcast the annual FDNY-NYPD hockey match.
“Live sports is the single best thing on television You don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s rivalries, there’s drama, there’s wins and losses and upsets,” Nardini says, adding of the company’s plans, “it is not just sports and it is not just entertainment and its not just comedy — it is kind of a combination of all three things.”
And Wednesday, Barstool will also roll out a new slate of content, including reality shows like Crush or Cash and competition series Barstool’s Elite AthElite.
Also in the works is a podcast from Los Angeles Lakers star Patrick Beverley, a documentary following the crew of the popular podcast Pardon My Take, and a gold tournament featuring Barstool talent called the Barstool Writer Cup.
“We take our talent and personalities and weave them through all different types of shows,” Nardini says.
And the advertising pitch comes as the company is set to be acquired in full by casino operator Penn National. Penn acquired a majority stake in Barstool in 2020, and exercised its option to buy out the remainder of the company last month.
“It gives us guns, money and steel to work with whereby we are partnered with the largest regional casino operator in the country,” Nardini says, noting that Barstool talent can tour across Penn properties, and that Barstool can work closer with theScore, which Penn acquired last year.
“People used to say, ‘Hey, why can’t you put sports scores and real journalism on Barstool Sports?’ And I would say it’s because we don’t do that,” Nardini says. “Now we will be able to bring to advertisers theScore, which is more straight sports journalism.”
And the company will roll out a Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) platform meant to connect brands with college athletes. Called TwoYay, the platform will be free for athletes and is meant to help athletes that don’t have a team of agents helping them score NIL deals, be it a division 1 basketball player or a division 3 volleyball player.
“The top 3 quarterbacks will get big sports drinks or apparel deals, and everyone else will get nothing, or if they are lucky a car dealership near their school,” Nardini said of the logic behind the platform. “This is creating something that doesn’t exist.”
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