Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini is joining the Premier Lacrosse League’s board of directors.
Nardini is the first appointed member to the PLL’s board, which includes Alibaba co-founder and Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, Arctos Sports Partners managing partner and co-founder Doc O’Connor, The Raine Group’s Blair Ford and Brett Jefferson, Hildene Capital Management president, as well as league co-founders Paul and Mike Rabil.
“The PLL has done a really remarkable job of finding a way to take a sport that is very fast growing in the U.S. and make it interesting to large audiences,” Nardini said in a phone interview. “I’m excited to have a more direct role, in this capacity, in how sports of the future are marketed, managed, broadcast, covered and even constructed.”
Nardini, who was one of the PLL’s original advisors, also currently sits on the boards of WWE and Torchy’s Tacos. She has led digital-media company Barstool Sports since 2016, when she was tapped as the company’s first CEO.
Barstool’s business is largely tied to monetizing digital and social-media distribution and engagement, both key components in the PLL’s approach as well. Nardini expects to bring immediate value in those realms, and as the league continues to negotiate its new broadcast deal and grow the business around its on-field product.
“Erika’s ability to monetize digital assets, if you look at how she’s been able to scale Barstool, is something we really admire,” Mike Rabil, the PLL’s CEO, said in an interview. “If I think about our entire ecosystem and what Erika can do for our business—which is at this place where we are really ready to [scale] and step on the monetization engine—who better than her? We’ve been super fortunate to get to this place where we are, thanks to the people we have in the room, but now we need someone to take us to the next level. She’s the right person to help us do that.”
Barstool Sports has grown tremendously under Nardini’s leadership, from controversially getting into live sports broadcasting to making major plays in the sports betting space. Casino operator Penn National acquired a 36% equity stake in Barstool Sports in early 2020 for $163 million in a deal that valued the media brand at $450 million and led to the launch of Barstool Sportsbook. The Sportsbook, a partnership between the two, currently operates in several U.S. states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, New Jersey and Arizona.
“A former lacrosse player herself, Erika’s been a supporter of our vision for the league from the beginning,” said PLL president Paul Rabil. “I can remember early days brainstorming with her on new media constructs and distribution strategies in her previous offices at Barstool. Fast forward four years later, we’re proud to announce that she’ll be joining our boardroom as one of the world’s best media minds in our newest offices.”
Since the league first launched in 2018, the single-entity, tour-based PLL has grown to eight teams, expanding most recently in December 2020 after merging with its predecessor, Major League Lacrosse. MLL’s operations, as well as its Boston-based franchise, were folded into the PLL umbrella.
Ticketmaster, Progressive Insurance and Vineyard Vines headline the PLL’s biggest sponsors. The league’s investors include Tsai (who also owns the WNBA’s New York Liberty, the National Lacrosse League’s San Diego Seals and a coming Las Vegas NLL expansion team); The Raine Group; Brett Jefferson Holdings; Arctos Sports Partners; the Kraft Group, led by Patriots owner Robert Kraft; Chernin Group; Creative Artists Agency (CAA); Blum Capital; Bolt Ventures and Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment.