Barstool Sports is expanding into college football bowl games as both the exclusive title sponsor and broadcast partner of the Arizona Bowl. Slated this year for Dec. 31, the Barstool Arizona Bowl will move off linear TV with this multi-year deal, after airing on CBS Sports for the last several years. Dave Portnoy’s digital media company will take over broadcast distribution.
Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.
“We really believe that what we can do is take the best of traditional broadcast and take the best of traditional sponsorship and do both in a brand new way,” Barstool CEO Erika Nardini said in an interview. “We think we’ll bring new fans. We know we will bring a level of energy, and we’ll cover the game in a way that is completely unique, and uniquely Barstool.”
Barstool Sports will stream the Arizona Bowl, which began play in 2015, on its website, app and social media channels.
As of 2020, the game features teams from the Mountain West and Mid-American Conferences. The Arizona Bowl, played at the University of Arizona stadium, is owned and operated by Tucson-based nonprofit TD4Tucson, which donates 100% of net proceeds to charity.
The move marks the first time Barstool Sports will broadcast a college football contest, but that wasn’t the initial intention. What Nardini said started out as straight sponsorship conversation eventually included distribution discussions “by virtue of the sponsorship.”
“It became clear our title sponsorship would have an implication on where the Arizona Bowl could be broadcast,” Nardini said, alluding to Barstool’s complicated history with certain networks, including ESPN. Instead of navigating the politics of a media partner, the title sponsor offered its services.
“There’s no reason we can’t play in the broadcast space, the sponsorship space and the comedy or personality and opinion space,” Nardini said. “Obviously, we want to make sure we do it right and do it well, but this is a watershed moment for rethinking where and how games are broadcast.”
Emergency Press Conference – Introducing The Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl pic.twitter.com/UWo31snw60
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) July 27, 2021
The bowl game deal was facilitated by sponsorship agency Impression Sports, a Playfly Sports company. Impression has also facilitated title sponsorship deals for other postseason college football games, including the Gasparilla Bowl (Union Home Mortgage), Tangerine Bowl (now the Cheez-It Bowl) and the Sun Bowl, currently called Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl after Frosted Flakes took the title slot.
“The Barstool team really thought creatively about all the different things they can do to innovate, not just as a title sponsor but with other elements like broadcast, events and experiences,” said Michael Schreiber, founder and CEO at Playfly Sports. “It’s very different than any other title sponsorship out there.”
College sports are an area of emphasis at Barstool at the moment. The company organized the “Let Them Play” Classic in Chandler, Ariz., this spring after the NCAA women’s golf regional was canceled, and recently launched Barstool Athletics Inc. to partner with hundreds of NCAA athletes as ambassadors in the wake of NIL. The Arizona Bowl fits with the company’s growing collegiate involvement, and the game’s home state, in particular, is also an important market for Barstool Sportsbook, which will launch in the state this fall.
Penn National Gaming acquired a 36% stake in Barstool Sports in 2020 in a $163 million deal that led to the launch of the sportsbook.
Nardini was not concerned about her company’s gambling ties as it entered the world of college athletics—which has long had an aversion to sports betting. Colleges have slowly started to wade into the wagering waters, however. The University of Colorado, for example, signed a five-year, $1.6 million deal with betting operator PointsBet last year.
The Penn National partnership valued Barstool Sports at $450 million. The media company has continued to expand since, telling Sportico it grew by approximately 57% in 2020 and delivered nearly $150 million in revenue from digital and audio advertising, ecommerce, events and licensing.