Barstool Sports CEO on Why Advertisers Shouldn’t Be Scared of the Edgy Platform

In NewFronts debut, company announces creative studio to produce content for brands

Erika Nardini in Times Square
Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini recorded her NewFronts appearance in New York's Times Square. Barstool Sports
Headshot of A.J. Katz

Key insights:

Dave Portnoy launched Barstool Sports in 2003 as a print publication about sports gambling and fantasy sports projections. In the later 2000s, it became a company known for raunchy blog posts and throwing paint parties for college students at bars. Fast-forward to 2020, and it’s one of the most popular and profitable digital media brands in America. Led by its eccentric founder, Portnoy and CEO Erika Nardini, Barstool Sports now has millions of loyal fans (many of them in the elusive adults 18-34 demographic) fiending for its content, everything from blog posts to top-rated daily sports and pop culture podcasts to the increasingly popular One Bite Pizza video reviews fronted by Portnoy.

In its NewFronts debut today, Barstool Sports made its pitch to advertisers, while also talking up its new creative studio for brands.

“Our big message to buyers is the more authentic your message is, and the more integrated you are with a media brand, the higher your performance will be,” Nardini told Adweek. “We have a really unique offering. We are making an incredible amount of video—we’ve launched 30 new shows in the last two months alone—and we have brands that are top of their game in video, in audio, in social and experiential.”

Barstool announced it is building a new creative studio—called Barstool Creative for now and set to launch this fall—to produce content for brands. “We’re doing this to help brands fully reach the 18- to 34-year-old audience, and to be able to connect and break through with those audiences in the same way that we have,” Nardini said.

Nardini added: “We work really hard to make sure that every brand, meaning the way they are integrated, works for the brand, it works for Barstool and it works for the audience. That’s really why we’re building this creative studio. We understand those three dynamics: what the audience wants, we understand what our brand is, and we understand what an advertiser is looking for.”

The theme of brand safety has become something of a cliche at recent NewFronts, but it’s important when it comes to Barstool Sports. In theory, Barstool should be an advertiser’s dream: a publisher that attracts a young, informed and extremely engaged audience.

However, as successful as the brand has been in recent years, it’s edgy and has a checkered past. There’s a history of producing off-color content, both in blog posts and on other platforms, and personalities who have made controversial public statements. Consequently, the brand has gained more than its fair share of critics over the years.

However, Nardini made a compelling case why brands shouldn’t be nervous to partner with Barstool.

“I think we live in a world of sameness,” Nardini said. “When you look at cable or broadcast television, there are very few shows or brands that really break out. And I think the same is true on the internet.”

Nardini further noted that she believes Barstool has done a great job in the past few years of creating brands that have broken through on a variety of platforms.

“Our brands resonate on TikTok, they resonate on Instagram, they resonate on YouTube and we produce things in a way that is very authentic,” Nardini said. “It’s not necessarily packaged or not necessarily perceived the way something you’d find on … a television network.”

According to Nardini, there’s a multidimensional approach when it comes to Barstool Sports and brand safety. “Brands should feel very comfortable working with Barstool because we will work very hard to make sure their brand is showcased in a great light,” said Nardini, adding, that brands that work with Barstool perform extremely well, “and they typically win their own category.”

Nardini cited alcohol brands, including New Amsterdam Vodka, Anheuser-Busch and High Noon as well as the mobile payment service Cash App as having broken through in their respective categories thanks to partnerships with Barstool Sports.

“Our audience is real, and our audience has a strong relationship with Barstool,” she said. “There’s true affinity there so that a brand’s product actually moves.”

Barstool Sports also unveiled a lineup of new shows set to launch in the fall. And while some projects announced at NewFronts aren’t produced unless an advertiser buys in, “these are shows that we are committed to making,” said Nardini, adding that they are in production now.

Those new offerings include Battle Rap Tournament, a new rap battle series with Rone, a show about esports, Barstool Hooliganz, and a golf competition show, Foreman Scramble, to name a few.

@ajkatztv A.J. Katz is the senior editor of Adweek's TVNewser.