Barstool Sports held its fall 2021 upfront event last night, touting the theme, “Barstool Everywhere,” a slogan indicative of the company’s mission to deliver “stoolies” the content they want, wherever they may be. CEO Erika Nardini explained the strategy is to “take as much market share as possible, whether it is on the internet or in your grocery aisle,” (as of Sept. 28, One Bite frozen pizza will be sold in 3,000 plus Walmart stores nationwide). She said it’s driven by the overarching desire to appeal to brand partners’ needs. “Right now, if you want to buy an ad with an exclusive media brand, there is really only one format to do so. If you want to buy a television ad, there is really only one way—buy either a 15- or 30-second spot. If you want to advertise with us, you can buy audio, video and experiential.” The approach, she added, is “far more integrated, far broader and much more widely distributed.” The only format Barstool cannot currently offer advertisers is linear television.
Andy Marston (chief of staff, Antourage) said it is a logical strategy. “Brands’ advertisements are ultimately vying for [our] attention,” he said. “Therefore, as long as our attention is cross-platform, there will be a demand from them to reach us on every medium.”
Our Take: While it may sound obvious for a publisher brand to give fans the content they want across a multitude of media channels, “people used to think about audio or video [in terms of] platform and format more than content and brand,” Nardini said.
“From an advertiser point of view, you used to be able to buy one television spot and reach 20 million viewers,” she said. “It was an easy buy, with fairly guaranteed results, in an environment that was controlled and finite.” In other words, there was no need for publisher brands to deliver more.
But those days are over. “For a brand to break through today, they have to travel across video, across audio, across social; otherwise, they’ll never [achieve the] reach [desired] and never garner the level of conversion or engagement needed to move product off the shelf,” Nardini said.
Marston wasn’t prepared to say it is impossible to build a brand today on a single platform. But he agreed with Nardini’s assessment that a “brand increases their chances of breaking through, and likely accelerates the process by being visible… or audible, on many consumer touch points.” Barstool’s ubiquitous approach (think: 135 million plus social followers, 1.6 billion monthly video views, a top 10 podcast publisher) means brand partners have the opportunity to appear across a multitude of platforms.
The company is in essence choosing audience growth over short-term revenue. “Typically when a publisher or brand goes exclusive, it means the check was too good to pass up and that you’re going to risk a trade-off in audience to get a paycheck,” Nardini said. “If you love podcasts, we want you to find us everywhere you can find podcasts. If you like video, we want you to find us in every place that you like to watch video. We just want to find fans and engage new ones with content cut for that platform,” she added. It should be noted that while the company does have an exclusive channel on SlingTV, the content on that channel can be found on demand across other OTT platforms.
Part of putting brand and content first is remaining authentic to the audience, and being platform-agnostic enables Barstool to do that. When a publisher or brand becomes exclusive to a platform, “there is a responsibility to deliver that [company] what they want [in terms of content],” Nardini said.
Being platform agnostic has also allowed Barstool to avoid being at the mercy of ever-changing social algorithms. “We don’t want to be dependent on any one platform because Instagram likes something on Monday, they don’t like it on Tuesday. [The social] platforms work in their own self-interest. That is why we’ll always have our blog,” Nardini said.
Nardini suggests being “everywhere” has helped to eliminate the inherent conflicts of interest that some of their linear competitors face, too. “Cable sports and cable media brands are trying to drive consumers into subscriptions,” she said. “Above everything else, they are trying to get consumers to buy their own products, and then they will promote their advertisers’ products.”
It should be noted that while the “everywhere” approach works well for a demo that is on a multitude of platforms and can move fluently between them, a media company targeting a different audience might not benefit from the same strategy. “Your grandma, for instance, is probably only getting reached via TV and OOH,” Marston said.
Similarly, while brands may value Barstool being “everywhere,” that does not mean their brand belongs everywhere. “It’s important that they understand [the Barstool] audience and how different segments consume content on various platforms,” Marston said.
(The story was updated to remove part of Nardini’s quote about not trying to be behind a paywall. SlingTV is a subscription service.)