Barstool Sports took an unprecedented leap for a sportsbook operator Tuesday, announcing it has become both the title sponsor and broadcast rights holder to college football’s Arizona Bowl.
That means Barstool will have the opportunity to broadcast the Dec. 31 college football game over its platform, should it so choose. The Arizona Bowl was previously broadcast by CBS Sports and features a team from the Mid-American Conference against a team from the Mountain West Conference.
“We have found our unicorn in the University of Arizona and the Arizona Bowl,” Barstool founder Dave Portnoy said during one of his “emergency press conferences” posted to his Twitter account. “I’m on the Arizona campus and we’re about to announce a multi-year, multi-international, multi-important sponsorship: the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl.
“We’re not just sponsoring a bowl game. We are, but we’re not. Because we have exclusive broadcast rights. CBS used to own it — see ya! Smell ya later! We control everything: the bowl, the broadcast, the halftime show, the national anthem. We are getting into the live sports broadcast game.”
Emergency Press Conference – Introducing The Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl pic.twitter.com/UWo31snw60
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) July 27, 2021
Barstool Sports is connected to sports betting in the Arizona market as the partner of Penn National Gaming and promoter for its Barstool Sportsbook, which is hoping to be licensed for event wagering through Penn National’s agreement with Phoenix Raceway. Arizona is targeting a Sept. 9 launch date for event wagering, and opened a 10-day application window Monday.
While sportsbook operators signing sponsorship deals with professional teams is nothing new, it is still mostly uncharted territory when it comes to college athletics. PointsBet signed a five-year partnership deal with the University of Colorado last September, while William Hill has marketing agreements in place with UNLV and Nevada.
Portnoy and Nardini mum on betting angle
Portnoy did not reference sports betting at any point during his video, and in an article by Sportico discussing the Arizona Bowl sponsorship and broadcast rights, Barstool CEO Erika Nardini “was not concerned about her company’s gambling ties as it enters the world of college athletics — which has long had an aversion to sports betting.”
Barstool has also put itself in the conversation of college athletics regarding Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) by launching Barstool Athletics Inc., which offers free Barstool merchandise and access to Barstool events for college athletes.
But having an entity so closely connected to a potential sportsbook operator as an in-state college bowl sponsor, let alone a broadcast rights holder, could make navigation tricky for the Arizona Department of Gaming, given the novelty and unprecedented nature of Barstool’s move.
Then there is the question of competition from other sportsbooks. Would FanDuel, BetRivers, or DraftKings be willing to offer action on a game “officially sponsored” by the brand utilized by one of their competitors? There likely will be internal debate over whether the handle generated by offering bets on a minor bowl game between teams from two Group of 5 conferences outweighs what amounts to free promotion of a rival operator.
The game itself looks to have a 50-50 chance of at least one school coming from a state where sports betting is legal. The Mid-American Conference currently has six: Buffalo (New York), Northern Illinois, and Ball State (Indiana), as well as three from Michigan — Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Western Michigan. The Mountain West has four, with Air Force (Colorado), Colorado State, UNLV, and Nevada, while a fifth — Wyoming — could be in a legal market by the NFL season.