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Barstool Sports Could Become Distribution Option As Broadcast Rights Continue to Splinter

Barstool Sports Could Become Distribution Option As Broadcast Rights Continue to Splinter

The Walt Disney Company-Charter dispute did not result in media Armageddon.

However, the negotiations are likely to result in “a rights fee pool that grows less than people expected, and in aggregate, best case scenario, stays flat,” media consultant Patrick Crakes said.

That reality will force established broadcasters to make decisions about which rights to retain.

“Sports media economics have always obeyed power law distribution principles. It’s [going to become] even more extreme,” Crakes said. “If there was a double-digit number of properties dominating majority share of the rights fees pool before, now that figure will be in the single digits.”

Those other rights owners, along properties further down the value chain, will have their own decisions to make.

Some may opt for less money to remain on linear television. Others will ink deals with a streamer. And a portion will look to the collective of alternative distribution channels that exist.

Many rights owners will look to spread games out across platforms to balance their reach and revenue goals.

Broadcast rights “will [continue to] splinter the way the internet is splintered,” Erika Ayers (CEO, Barstool Sports) said. The game is “not going to be in one of five places, it could be in one of fifteen.”

One of those places may be Barstool Sports.

The digital pirate ship recently streamed a PGA TOUR Korn Ferry event –the NV5 Invitational presented by Old National Bank– exclusively on its website. Production was one-part high quality traditional golf broadcast and one-part Barstool comedy show. And it worked.

Korn Ferry Tour president Alex Baldwin called the experiment a “huge success” in terms of “the buzz created across social media, as well as the livestream metrics” (think: 4.1 million viewer minutes).

So much so that the developmental tour has already initiated conversations with Barstool about partnering for the 2024 season and beyond.

“The positive feedback from our partners, our fans, and our players shows us that this is a model we can continue to explore for the future,” Baldwin said.


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Live sports is the only game left in the town. But the Pay TV universe is declining, the business is under pressure, and existing rights holders have costly long-term commitments to fulfill.

“Everybody is fighting for the [cable] deal. And that’s great if you’re the NBA, NHL or [MLB],” Ayers said. “But everybody else needs to stop shopping at that store. There’s no more money. The funds have already been used up.”

So, rights owners who want to keep revenues from declining, particularly those further down the value chain, will need to start taking a different approach to distribution.

It is likely to be “a more complicated route with the inclusion of other pathways,” Crakes said.

OTT streaming will be among them. Streamers, like Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV, may be able to guarantee a sports property the most money.

Of course, parking content on a streaming service will also impair reach.

Free ad supported television (FAST) platforms or digital channels, like Twitch and YouTube, can deliver the reach sports properties desire. But they don’t address discovery. So, their effective reach is much lower than their subscriber counts.

Rights owners streaming on O&O platforms will encounter similar issues and likely need promotion from a strategic media partner, who has an established brand and audience, to drive audience beyond the hardcore fan.

Standalone digital media companies, like Barstool, have a role in the expanding mosaic too.

While Barstool cannot deliver the reach of those platforms, its ability to “make content that people care about on the internet, distribute content on the internet, and monetize content on the internet” makes it a potentially valuable partner, Ayers said.

The brand also appeals to a desirable younger demographic.

Unsure of the best path to take in a rapidly evolving media landscape, expect many rights holders to explore and test a multitude of distribution strategies.

“If you’re a tier three property, you really can’t avoid any opportunity to take your rights and dice them small enough to have FAST channels or to find a role for somebody like Barstool to distribute things that Charter and Disney don’t value completely right now,” Crakes said.

It sounds as if that process has already started.

“We’re seeing, in the last 2.5 years, that [rights owners] who would never talk to Barstool Sports [before] are asking [if we can do something for them],” Ayers said.

The digital media co. began streaming collegiate sporting events in 2021. It currently holds the exclusive broadcast rights to both the Arizona Bowl and Barstool Invitational.

And now Barstool is beginning to work with pro sports leagues too.

The traditionally conservative PGA TOUR was initially reluctant to align with the sometimes-controversial brand.

“They are like who are these average Joes swearing and covering golf? They have no pedigree, no authority, there is nothing ‘special’ about them,” Ayers said; “which [of course] is exactly what makes them special because 99.95% of people watching golf are not special.”

The hosts of Barstool’s popular ForePlay podcast did the commentary.

But the unconventional partnership exceeded the Korn Ferry Tour’s high expectations, particularly related to social engagement (540K engagements, 4th most all-time) and reaching younger fans.

“In terms of viewers, over 80% of the streaming audience was under 35 years old, which obviously shows the impact of partnering with an established media powerhouse like Barstool Sports,” Baldwin said.

The typical KFT viewer is significantly older.

Ayers pointed out that some portion of those young viewers reside outside the Pay TV bundle.

“[We brought] a lot of audience to Korn Ferry and the PGA [TOUR] that would not have happened if we didn’t participate.”

Barstool’s ability to create a funnel of new fans for a sports property is a strong selling point, one that should make it increasingly attractive to challenger and established leagues alike as the broadcast landscape continues to fracture.

Of course, Barstool isn’t going to pay large up-front fees to gain rights.

“The currency isn’t going to be cash, it’s going to be fans; and also, about the [ability to monetize those fans on the] back-end,” Ayers said.

Then again, the reality is, for many properties there won’t be large up-front payments available anywhere in the future.

Barstool believes its ability to monetize an online audience beyond ad sales will be another differentiator from other digital media companies and streamers seeking to carry sporting events.

“If you look at the Arizona Bowl, we’re selling 30-second spots, integrations on the field, naming rights, co-branded merch, [and] a branded entertainment series,” Ayers said.

But the digital media executive pumped the breaks on the suggestion Barstool would become a regular home for live sports in the future.

“It could be. We just don’t know yet,” she said.

The company will continue to look for the right partners and relationships in the interim as it tries to figure that out.

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