Are live rights, expanded sportsbook key to Barstool’s future?

Andrew Marchand is off this week, so New York Post media reporter Ryan Glasspiegel is pinch-hitting. Andrew will return to his regular spot in the Sports+ lineup next Monday.

As we barrel toward football season, the busiest time in the sports calendar, it has already been an eventful year for Barstool Sports.

In February, Penn Entertainment finalized its acquisition of Barstool from The Chernin Group, at a total price of $551 million.

The Post caught up with Erika Ayers (formerly Nardini), who has been Barstool’s CEO since 2016, to talk about some of the company’s biggest accomplishments, what’s next for the brand, and what she thinks about Barstool founder Dave Portnoy’s comments regarding his contract expiration coming up on the medium-term horizon.

Focusing on sponsorships: At one point, it would have been unfathomable for Barstool to land and maintain relationships with national blue chip companies. Now, Chevy sponsors “Pardon My Take” and other podcasts such as “Bussin’ with the Boys.” Molson Coors, Raising Cane’s and High Noon are other large brands that have had big spends.

• “In 2016, the idea of having an automotive sponsor at Barstool Sports was my dream, and I thought it would never, ever, ever, ever happen,” Ayers said. “That was always my vision that we would work with the biggest blue chip brands in the country.”

PFT Commenter recording a new podcast episode at the office of Barstool Sports in Manhattan, New York.
Barstool’s growth has been fueled, in part, by sponsorships the company has struck with brand-name companies to sponsor podcasts such as “Pardon My Take.”
The Washington Post via Getty Im

• “It did not happen overnight,” she continued. “I wanted brands that wanted to connect with people in an environment that’s super creative, with audiences who actually care about what our people have to say, who want to buy a truck because Big Cat (Dan Katz) likes it, or drink a coffee because he made it, or have a wireless plan because he uses it. There’s something so different about how people feel about our talent and our brands and our content.”

• She credits Barstool’s increased scale across all social media channels, the brand as a unique force that “moves product” and working on relationships as the driving forces behind the company’s growing portfolio of sponsors. “We agreed that we would be scrappier, and have better rates, and be more competitive, creative and integrative — and it paid off,” she said.

About that scale: Barstool, which now has 400 employees, reaches one-third of 18-34 year-olds in the United States, a company rep said.

• The rep added that Barstool has 220 million followers across 1,700 social media accounts, accumulates five billion monthly views, and produces 100 social clips a day. The rep cited data from ListenFirst to show that Barstool was the most-engaged-with sports brand on TikTok in 2022.

• Revenue is up 3,650 percent since 2016, according to Barstool.

• Ayers declined to get into precise specifics, but said the pie chart of revenue outside of the sportsbook, which is managed by Penn Entertainment, is roughly two-thirds from advertising and strategic partnerships, and one-third from licensing (such as sports bars in Chicago and Scottsdale), products (such as One Bite pizza) and apparel sales.

Live sports will continue to be an emphasis. Barstool has been the rights holder for a college football bowl game, an early-season NCAA basketball invitational, an NCAA women’s golf invitational, and a Korn Ferry golf tournament. The company purchased the Rough N’ Rowdy fight promotion, and hosts regular PPVs. At one point, The Post’s Andrew Marchand reported that Barstool had talks about becoming an MLB rights holder.

Ohio Bobcats offensive line during the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl between the Wyoming Cowboys and the Ohio Bobcats on December 30, 2022 at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona.
Barstool CEO Erika Ayers thinks the unconventional approach the company took in presenting the Arizona Bowl might help it in bidding for more live game rights.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

• Barstool will once again hold its NCAA basketball tournament this year. It will take place in November in Chicago. Teams and dates are to-be-announced.

• “I think we put on a live sports broadcast different from everybody else,” Ayers said. “If you look at the Arizona Bowl and the way we integrated Jersey Jerry and Frank the Tank, and the comedy and humor and character around the broadcast, I think you’re gonna see more and more of it in sports.”

• “The rights for major sports are so competitive, with companies that are exponentially bigger and richer than we are, but I do think there is something to how we put on a broadcast,” she said. “I think we’re pretty interested in figuring out if we could do more of that. Are there other leagues we could work with? Is there more opportunity with the NCAA? Are there more competitions that we could host ourselves like Rough N’ Rowdy?”

• While Ayers once broached the idea of launching a professional women’s hockey league, those plans have been shelved. “I’m out of the women’s hockey business,” she said. “I’m a huge proponent of women’s sports. I think there’s so much politics around women’s hockey. It’s deadly for that sport.”

Big changes coming to Barstool Sportsbook. Barstool’s app will update later this week to a new platform.

• Barstool’s oddsmaking platform will be migrating away from Kambi (whose odds are used by other sportsbooks such as BetRivers), toward odds and risk management platforms tabulated in-house.

The Barstool Sportsbook section of the casino. At the Hollywood Casino Morgantown during a preopening press tour of the facility Friday morning December 17, 2021.
Barstool’s sportsbooks are set to be joined by an updated app that will see its odds tabulated in-house.
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

• In an email sent to account holders, Barstool Sportsbook promised faster load times, deposits and withdrawals, more player props, more Barstool exclusives (bets tied to the company’s personalities), better search navigation and integration with theScore media app (Penn acquired theScore in 2021).

• “Our success in Ontario provides us with a blueprint for improved performance for the Barstool Sportsbook & Casino after we complete our migration to this platform in July,” Penn’s CEO and president Jay Snowden said in the company’s Q1 earnings call. “Having full control of our product roadmap in the U.S will enable us to connect with our customers on a more personal level and quickly add new features and betting markets to the Barstool Sportsbook, while also enhancing our iCasino product with new content and bonus mechanics.”

We also covered several other topics in a Q&A with Ayers:

Dan Katz is opening a huge new office in Chicago this summer, and bringing a significant number of people who work for the company with him. How does that change things for you, with the company effectively having dual HQs?

Erika Ayers: I’m gonna miss Big Cat. I’m gonna miss everybody. I’ll spend a lot of time in Chicago. We are literally reconstructing our New York headquarters as we speak. One of the things that will happen in New York is we will do way more comedy. Kevin Clancy will really step up and make New York his world.

We’re looking at a lot of comedy talent. We’re incubating a lot of different sketch shows. We’re playing with standup, and pay-per-view.

What you’ll find is Big Cat will create a world in Chicago. We had a roof-ball competition recently, and now we’re trying to build a roof-ball court inside the office there.

Dan Katz and Dave Portnoy of Barsool Spoorts are seen in attendance during the UFC 281 event at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2022 in New York City.
Barstool personality Dan Katz is opening a new office in Chicago while Dave Portnoy has floated the idea that he may leave the company within the next two years.
Zuffa LLC

I think we have 90 people moving to Chicago. That will be its own world.

As we wrote about in May, Dave Portnoy told Kirk Minihane that his contract is up in 20 months. What are your thoughts on that?

EA: First of all, how funny is it that Dave basically has his own beat at The Post? I think it’s great. It makes me laugh every day. I cannot believe we’re here.

Dave was pretty honest in his conversation with Kirk. He’s an enormous talent. He built something extraordinary. I want him to be so happy. I would work with him for the rest of my life. I think he’s incredible.

But he’ll figure that out. I don’t think he knows. Maybe he stays and does this. Maybe he doesn’t do anything. Maybe he goes on a beach. Maybe he does something else.

I think he’s got a little bit of time and is just kind of thinking through what that could look like.

He’s a live wire and he understands what people care about.

What is it like dealing with gambling regulators? While Barstool is licensed in most states that offer sports betting, it was a challenge in Massachusetts and Barstool did not get licensed in New York.

EA: It’s hard. It’s not within our control. I have so much empathy for Penn and really everyone in the space. The regulatory landscape is serious.

Erika Ayers speaks onstage at Meet the Women Dominating Sports Media during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Hilton Austin on March 14, 2022 in Austin, Texas.
Ayers admits that navigating the no-nonsense thicket of regulations surrounding gambling has been a challenge for a satire-driven site such as Barstool.
Getty Images for SXSW

It’s very fragmented and fractured. It’s state-by-state.

It’s a little bit tricky for us. We obviously have a lot going on in Massachusetts, but if you read about the “can’t lose parlay” and how problematic that was — we’re a satire/humor/comedy brand in a world where there’s just no room for humor.

That piece is delicate. We try to do our best and understand the rules as best we can. There’s obviously way more rules than there ever were before, but we think we can continue to try to be funny around it.

Other than what we’ve already talked about, what is ‘next’ for Barstool?

EA: We want to work with Penn and do the best we can with the sportsbook.

We want to grow the brands we have, if you look at it like building more IP — building our talents into celebrities. For example, what more can we do with Frank the Tank?

We’ll build more Barstool-branded products.

We want to find more people like “Wallo & Gillie” from “Million Dollaz Worth of Game”.

We will continue to have an eye for what’s going on on the internet — what people are talking about, what they’re doing, who’s eliciting a reaction.

It’s gotten so fragmented that there are very few companies out there now that can put enough gasoline on you to make you famous. We can do that. It gives us an awesome opportunity.

And you can give people who are already famous a different audience?

EA: Totally. Deion Sanders is a perfect example of that.

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