The sports industry has been left shaken by the widespread ramifications of the global coronavirus pandemic as athletes, media companies, leagues, and teams alike continue to evaluate the impact on their respective businesses.
“It’s an unprecedented time, as well as a very unchartered one,” said Erika Nardini, the CEO of Barstool Sports.
But amid the crises, Nardini said one thing is clear for Barstool: “What Dave [Portnoy] and I believe is that content is more important than ever,” she said.
Nardini spoke with Front Office Sports Editor Ian Thomas about how Barstool is moving forward amid the pandemic, how it has had to alter its coverage of the sports industry as leagues are on hiatus, and how “Pardon My Take” landed Dr. Anthony Fauci to talk about the coronavirus on a recent podcast.
Front Office Sports: What sort of impact is this pandemic having on Barstool’s approach to content?
Erika Nardini: The best part of Barstool is that it is an escape for so many people – you can get away from your daily life and escape to a podcast, a blog, a video series, or what’s happening on social.
We always have felt a big responsibility to be there for the stoolies and our fans and to be that escape and that laugh. Honestly, I think that is true now more than ever, and it’s completely guiding us from a content perspective.
FOS: As a media company, how are you adapting to having your employees and content creators at home as opposed to the office?
Nardini: We never felt constrained by a studio, a production format, or even location, so what you see now is that everyone is bringing their own personality to life in their own way. It’s very different – Dave is doing videos about him betting the stock market as opposed to on games. The team is really energized to do it, and they are creating a lot of conversation around it.
FOS: Has the fact there are no live sports right now changed anything?
Nardini: We’re a bit different since we’ve never had any rights – when you don’t have rights, it’s a bit easier to know what to do without them when you never had them.
It forces us to be really creative, which is when the best of Barstool shines through, and we can be weird, funny, and not particularly rehearsed or polished.
“Spitting Chiclets” is talking about Ryan Whitney’s mites career instead of the NHL playoffs run. There is no college basketball to discuss, which would have been the focus of a lot of our content right now. Brandon Walker is doing a live stream in his basement instead of at a sportsbook.
You need to make storylines because natural storylines aren’t coming out of sports, and I think we’re making the most of it.
Across the business, the blog is up, podcasts are steady, and social is doing well. It’s obviously a day-by-day situation, but we’re making every day count so far.
FOS: Sports betting is a large focus for the company, only increased by the recent Penn National deal – what has been the impact on the business there?
Nardini: Right now, we were supposed to be on a four-stop tour of Penn National properties across the midwest that we were extremely excited about. We’re watching the industry very closely, and it’s a very fluid situation.
We were still building our sports betting app with Penn National, so we’re not missing out by not having betting markets right now. That does give us time to building and refine the app and make sure our approach is right. We want to nail the landing when it comes to what the Barstool sportsbook will be, and this gives us some time to do that.
But for the bettors among us, it’s certainly a void.
FOS: “Pardon My Take” had Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s leading voice on the coronavirus on the podcast – what kind of moment is that for Barstool as a whole?
Nardini: It really is a transcendent episode. The U.S. government is trying to reach young people, and they turned to us – that says a lot. Big Cat and PFT also did an incredible job of telling that story and making it relatable and funny, speaking directly to that demographic.