Barstool launched its sports betting app in Pennsylvania in mid-September 2020. PA was the first state with a Barstool Sportsbook. Upon arrival, Barstool president Dave Portnoy made a bold proclamation in an email calling Pennsylvania “step 1 of our world domination plan.”
“Obviously, my haters, of which there are many, are hoping we fail. Well, I have an undying faith in the loyalty of our fans that make me believe we will do what we always do, and that’s shut up the critics and astound Wall Street with our performance.”
Just over one year later, where does Barstool rank among PA sportsbooks? How is Barstool Sports, the digital media company, expanding? And what does it all mean for Pennsylvania Stoolies?
Barstool Sportsbook started in PA
Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini tweeted:
“Day 1 of our future in sports betting. We start in PA and move from there. We have the best gamblers and the biggest machine to connect content and fans on the internet. Best yet, this place is all gut and heart. We are going for it.”
Penn National, which acquired a 36% stake in Barstool in Jan. 2020, sent out a press release about the online sportsbook. But – like basically every press release – it was standard without any proclamations of taking over the world or calling out haters.
Barstool Sportsbook in PA
When the Barstool Sportsbook app went live in PA, it was the tenth sports betting app in the state, which already included FanDuel and DraftKings. It arrived at the start of an NFL betting season which, held promise for the Philadelphia Eagles and a blazing 11-0 start for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Barstool’s best month in Pennsylvania for handle and revenue in Pennsylvania was December 2020 where they took $71.8 million in wagers and reported $14.7 million in revenue. It was also the month of Barstool sportsbook’s eye-popping 20% hold. In the immediate reaction world of social media, it caused a stir. But since December 2020, Barstool’s hold for the 2020/2021 Fiscal Year was 8.4%.
Barstool’s handle hit its lowest $31.8 million in June 2021 but revenue increased after declining for the two previous months to $3.2 million.
BetMGM Sportsbook launched in Pennsylvania in mid-December 2020. By January they were the No. 4 operator in terms of handle and revenue right behind Barstool. By June 2021, they had moved into the No. 3 spot previously held by Barstool.
Barstool Sportsbook PA market share from Sept. 2020-Aug. 2020
Barstool’s charitable efforts in PA
Portnoy joined in on the effort in Oct. 2020 to save the historic Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. Users who signed users making a first-time deposit of $100+ into an account on the recently launched Barstool Sportsbook app, Penn National matched the deposit with a $100 donation to the Reading Terminal Market until it hit its GoFundMe goal of $250,000.
Portnoy started the Barstool Fund in Dec. 2020 to help small businesses suffering to survive through the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of Pennsylvania small businesses such as restaurants, dance studios and a bowling alley, were the recipients of funds. Penn National contributed over $4.6 million to the Barstool Fund.
A different approach to advertising
Before Barstool Sportsbook and the legalization of gambling outside of Nevada, Dave Portnoy founded Barstool Sports in Massachusetts in 2003. What started as a print publication with gambling ads and fantasy sports news turned into a digital media company that merged sports, sex and Barstool’s brand of bold personalities on blogs, podcasts, and video.
In 2020, Barstool Sports grew a reported 57% to $150 million. During an upfront presentation to ad agencies in September, Nardini predicted the company will grow to over $200 million in revenue by early 2022.
Unlike FanDuel and DraftKings whose ads are on TV, the Internet, billboards, buses, (and seemingly everywhere), you won’t see ads for Barstool Sportsbook. They rely on the buzz, brand recognition, and the loyalty created by Barstool.
Why advertise when an “emergency press conference by Dave Portnoy” hits their target audience?
Why don’t PA sports fans who listen to Sportsradio WIP or 93.7 The Fan hear Barstool commercials? Call Her Daddy (a podcast formerly owned by Barstool until June 2021) was the No.11 most-listened to podcast in Q3. Pardon My Take by Barstool Sports was No. 50. The only sports-centric podcast in the Top 50 was Bill Simmons Podcast.
Too early to pick a winner, but which is the most fun
The summer of 2021 marked two years since online sports betting arrived in Pennsylvania. Over 90% of bets each month are placed online making sports betting apps the overwhelming preference. Even with FanDuel holding a 40% market share, it’s still way too early to start to crown winners and losers.
Wayne Kimmel, managing partner at PA-based SeventySix Capital, shared his thoughts:
“It’s exciting where we are today. It’s amazing how fast it’s grown in Pennsylvania, but at the same time, there is so much more growth. The apps we have and the way we bet on sports will be different. I guarantee that. How it’s going to be different…it’s going to be up to the entrepreneurs. It’s going to be better and a lot more fun.”
How much of that fun already can be attributed to Barstool?
While Barstool Sportsbook might not be first for revenue or handle in PA…is it a lot more fun than the others right now?
Barstool taking big bites
Barstool Sports moves fast. Seemingly right after college players were able to profit off of name, image and likeness, Barstool (the media company, not the sportsbook) began to partner with college athletes. Now, they are expanding into virtual dining, frozen pizza, and sports media rights.
Nardini said during the Chicago Sports Summit in October:
“When I joined Barstool in 2016, we had 12 people. No one took us seriously. We started to make it into a business. We took a brand that was very loved and sought to bring it into a business. From 2016 to 2021 we’ve had to fight for every opportunity we could to create this business, make the brand bigger, find more fans, connect with fans, and diversify how we were making money.
“You can’t ignore Barstool Sports anymore. We are everywhere. There is no one who thought we would be this big five years ago. Not our investors, not our board, not our partners…there was no one lining up to help this company get this big. We got this big by ourselves. We don’t need ESPN and we don’t need the NFL to bless us.”
Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl
In late July 2021, Barstool became the exclusive title sponsor of the Arizona Bowl which will now be called the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl. It also includes broadcasting rights and will be streamed on Barstool’s website, app and social media. Previously, CBS aired the Arizona Bowl. However, when CBS discovered Barstool was the new sponsor, things changed.
Nardini said during the Chicago Sports Summit:
“They (the Arizona Bowl) approached us and asked to sponsor and we said ‘absolutely.’ Then the Arizona Bowl went to CBS and said Barstool Sports is going to be the presenting sponsor of the bowl game and CBS said ‘not so fast…we will not allow Barstool to be a sponsor.’
“Personally, I think that’s a crazy, asinine decision, understanding the marketing platform we’ve created, how many eyeballs we bring and social conversations. Companies pay us millions of dollars to do that for their product and CBS said ‘no thanks.’ The Arizona Bowl came back to us and we said give us the broadcast rights. We are going to completely reframe how a college bowl game is produced, promoted, packaged and brought to life.”
“There is a different way to make live sports interesting to young viewers. There is a different way to bring a brand to life that is part broadcast, social, funny, and physical. I think this is a watershed moment in sports and not just for Barstool Sports.”
During the upfront to advertisers, Portnoy teased some things Barstool has planned for the Arizona Bowl.
“I got what I want for our halftime show and it’s expensive. This is a Dave Portnoy guarantee – the most viral moment on New Year’s Eve. It’s brilliant and expensive.”
“It’s bigger than what he just said. He undersold it,” said Dan “Big Cat” Katz.
PA loves Portnoy’s pizza
Portnoy started his “One Bite” pizza reviews in 2017. Some non-sports fans know him from his pizza-eating and catchphrase “one bite, everybody knows the rules.”
Barstool Sports partnered with Happi Foodi, a Secaucus, NJ-based frozen meal brand, in mid-Sept 2021 to produce One Bite Pizza. The ready-to-heat pizzas are available at over 3,500 Walmart stores and online at Walmart.com and the OneBite.app.
Portnoy tweeted on Oct. 7 that 150k One Bite frozen pizzas have been sold making it the #1 frozen pizza in the country. He added an asterisk that said “no proof to this statement.” He then listed the top stores.
Walmart stores in PA and NJ that cracked the Top Ten for One Bite pizza sales were:
- Brick, NJ
- Washington, PA
- Turnersville, NJ
- Moon Township, PA
What’s next for Barstool
Penn National purchased theScore to complement Barstool Sportsbook in August 2021. The acquisition will (eventually) allow Barstool Sportsbook to bring its technology in-house. It likely signals the end of Barstool using the Kambi platform. During last year’s Super Bowl, a number of PA sports betting apps that use Kambi crashed.
Barstool plans for Pennsylvania
- Barstool-branded sports bars in Philadelphia. Sources in Philadelphia real estate say that the location will be at the site of the former Brickwall Tavern on Sansom Street.
- New Barstool Sportsbooks at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course and Hollywood Casino at The Meadows.
- When the mini-casino Hollywood Casino Morgantown opens, it will also have a Barstool Sportsbook