The digital media company and sportsbook operator Barstool Sports has been expanding its profile considerably over recent years. This week the company announced yet another venture designed to increase its recognition, a multi-year deal with college football’s Arizona Bowl to become the game’s title sponsor.
The newly named Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl will also be exclusively broadcast on the company’s digital and social media platforms starting this year.
Arizona Bowl, Barstool express mutual enthusiasm over alliance
The Arizona Bowl is a relatively new addition to the crowded college football bowl game schedule, having debuted in 2015. Past sponsors of the game have included NOVA Home Loans and the Offerpad real estate company. For the last four years CBS has aired the game.
The union with Barstool resulted from the Arizona Bowl having hired the search firm Impression Sports to solicit bids and find a new corporate partner.
The first Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl will take place December 31, 2021 at Arizona Stadium. As in the past, the game’s participants will come from the Mountain West and Mid-American conferences.
The announcement came at a press conference Tuesday at the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. The two parties symbolically signed a barstool at the event to signify the deal’s completion. There Arizona Bowl executive director Kym Adair enthusiastically commented on the new partnership.
Adair highlighted how the alliance connects “the grand traditions of football to Barstool’s unmatched creative content power and streaming services,” Tucson.com reports.
Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy was on hand as well. He described sponsoring a college bowl game as a long-time “dream” of his. “We’ve been looking for the right partner, the right city,” he said. He reiterated how the company plans to make its presence felt in Tucson. “We’re going to make this an experience, and we’re super-excited,” he said.
Barstool broadcast of Arizona Bowl not part of original plan
When speaking with Sportico, Barstool CEO Erika Nardini explained the company’s intention to “bring a new level of energy” to the bowl game while covering it “in a way that is completely unique, completely Barstool.”
Nardini also revealed that broadcasting the game had not originally been Barstool’s intention. However, negotiations over sponsorship eventually expanded to include the company taking over the game’s broadcast as well.
“It became clear our title sponsorship would have an implication on where the Arizona Bowl could be broadcast,” said Nardini. Such a circumstance led to the plan for Barstool to stream the game online over its platforms.
Nardini was no doubt alluding to Barstool Sports’ earlier brief partnership with ESPN during late 2017. The collaboration between the two entities ended in less than two weeks, with the ESPN2 show Barstool Van Talk lasting all of one episode before ESPN severed ties with Barstool.
Reasons for the partnership’s abrupt termination included ESPN President John Skipper‘s concerns about the network being unable to “distance [the network’s] efforts from the Barstool site and its content.” The Barstool website, programs, and social media accounts largely target a young, mostly male audience. On several occasions Barstool has courted controversy over content deemed derogatory toward minorities and women.
In her comments, the Arizona Bowl’s Adair highlighted the company’s fast growth and huge following with social media accounts topping 38.4 million. According to the bowl committee, 70% of those following Barstool accounts and using its app are under 30.
“They are the fastest-growing company on the internet and the preeminent digital company for the attention economy,” said Adair. She described Barstool as “the content destination for millennial and (generation Z) audiences.”
New partners leave Barstool’s sports betting ties unaddressed
Neither party disclosed the deal’s financial terms. Nor did either refer in the press conference to Barstool Sports’ increased involvement in sports betting. Barstool partnered with Penn National Gaming in early 2020 and afterward launched the Barstool Sportsbook online app.
After legalizing sports betting earlier this year, Arizona hopes to launch the state’s first sportsbooks by the 2021 football season. Among the many partnerships having already formed between sports betting operators and potential license holders in the state is one involving Phoenix Raceway and Penn National Gaming.
The deal finds Barstool Sports becoming the exclusive sportsbook of the NASCAR track. Pending regulatory approval, that arrangement would bring the Barstool Sportsbook online app to Arizona.
As noted, Arizona Bowl officials did not comment on its new partner’s sports betting connection. Meanwhile the Sportico article characterized Barstool CEO Nardini as “not concerned about her company’s gambling ties as it entered the world of college athletics.”