Barstool Sports: from Smut Blog to Comedy Central

Barstool Sports

Barstool Sports is a blog founded in 2003 by Dave Portnoy, known on his blog as El Pres. Based out of Boston, Barstool began primarily as a sports blog offering takes on sports news, betting advice, satirical commentary on current events, and features on attractive women (safe to say it was targeted towards men). For years their shtick was pretty consistent featuring lots of tongue in cheek remarks about popular culture in addition to their sports content. As their once college readers graduated and continued returning to the site, new freshmen took their place and their following grew. They took on new ventures such as apparel sales and a concert series dubbed Barstool Blackout.

Along the way Barstool made a concerted effort to bring additional readers into the fold. What was once a Boston blog now featured branches in New York, Chicago, Philly, and more. Each city’s writers maintained the character of the blog while appealing to the regional tastes and sports fandom of it’s audience. They brought on female bloggers and expanded their content (a little) to appeal more to women. Perhaps most importantly, they regularly featured fan content on their page – if you had a Barstool shirt or sign and were spotted on TV, you’d make the site. All of a sudden hundreds of Barstool signs were showing up at sporting events around the world – it was the cool move. The connections that these loyalists (fondly referred to as ‘Stoolies’) share remains strong today as they continue to be featured on social media.

Barstool Sports today is an entirely different animal, though their values and most importantly their following remain the same. In January of last year Barstool was acquired by The Chernin Group which invests in media and entertainment companies. They also hired Erica Nardini, former chief marketing officer of AOL as their CEO. While Portnoy still has full creative control, it was about time they brought in someone with the savvy to grow the business, and the results have shown. Chernin and Nardini have helped transformed Barstool from what many described as a “smut blog” into a multi-media company that insists on being taken seriously by even the most traditional entertainment executives.

 

New Media

Since the acquisition Barstool HQ moved to NYC and have embarked on an ambitious media expansion that has allowed them to capitalize (and monetize) on what they have created far beyond sidebar ads. In the least year Barstool has started a podcast – Pardon My Take – which currently sits as the #1 sports podcast on iTunes. Their Instagram has 1.2 million followers. During game 7 of the world series they Facebook live’d a feed of their office watching the game (one of the head bloggers is a big Cubs fan), and viewership peaked at 30k viewers. Most recently and impressively they hosted a live 30-minute late night slot on comedy central each day leading up to the Superbowl. Their first foray into television yielded impressive results, peaking at over 500k viewers, landing them second in sports talk shows for the week, despite their midnight slot against other primetime shows.

According to Quantcast, Barstool averages 3.6 million unique viewers each month, with 30 million global views per month. Those viewers are predominantly male, college educated, and between the ages of 18 and 44. It is the loyal fan base of 3.6 million unique viewers a month that has enabled them to expand their business from many considered a smut blog featuring sports commentary and campus “smokeshows” to Comedy Central appearances and iTunes hits. They essentially turned Barstool into a lifestyle brand propped up on the ideals of satire, sports fandom, party culture, and all things millennials. They capitalized on their own humor, but more uniquely on the fierce loyalty of sports fans, even those from different regional markets. They earned that respect through a consistent message: we don’t take anything very seriously, except for sports. Four of their Boston bloggers, El Pres included, went so far as to spend a night in jail after handcuffing themselves to the NFL building in NYC in protest of Tom Brady’s deflategate suspension.

 

New Partnerships

To compound their new found legitimacy as a media outlet, Barstool has been able to profit off of a few major product partnerships since their acquisition. Barstool’s move to NYC marked the beginning of a partnership with Oakheart Rum, a Bacardi owned brand of spiced rum. Their office bar is stocked floor to ceiling with the stuff which they drink constantly while streaming content. They branded the drink called “Oak & Coke,” which is catchy enough that I myself fell victim to purchasing a few weeks back (verdict: not half bad). They run Oakheart ads before most video content. They even feature Oakheart in recurring blog segments such as the Office Power Rankings.

I had never heard of Oakheart until their Barstool partnership when it started popping up in stores and on friends’ shelves. Though I was not able to find any hard data beyond “Oakheart has been doing well since Barstool endorsement,” my impression is that it has been a success. I did find some strong negative reviews in response to Barstool readers feeling flooded with Oakheart ads.

Barstool’s more recent partnership with Totino’s Pizza Bites was a sure hit however. All week leading up to the Superbowl the Barstool team broadcast out of a house in Houston which was sponsored by Totino’s. With the Patriots in the big game and the Comedy Central premier on the ticket, this guaranteed maximum exposure for Totino’s. One think I found interesting was that the Barstool promotion of Totino’s was in line with it’s usual dripping satire, to the point where I almost felt like they were mocking the product on first watch. On second thought, there was no false pretense as to what a Barstool endorsement is (nor what Totino’s bizza bites are for that matter) and I imagine the target audience would “eat up” the humorous over-the-top review more than something unusually trite.

 

In Conclusion

To put in perspective how well Barstool has really done in their rise to legitimacy, last week Pat McAfee, former punter for the Indianapolis Colts, announced he will be retiring from the NFL to work for Barstool Sports. McAfee is a smart, funny guy, but he is also a 29 year-old who was making a few million dollars a year in the NFL. To me this speaks measures to the brand that El Pres and Barstool have cultivated for themselves. Barstool is cool. People are talking about. They share inside jokes. They break pop culture and sporting news first. They support the teams and universities that you do. They have broader appeal every day. For years they have done an outstanding job creating a loyal community and an ‘in’ crowd that people line up to join and perpetuate, and they are now legitimizing their operation and finding more diverse ways to a) grow and b) cash-in on their hard earned loyalty. Kudos to Barstool, I truly thought they’d have perished years ago.

 

 

 

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