Barstool Sports is returning to the Daytona 500 this year, with plans to lean even deeper into NASCAR.
Ahead of the circuit’s unofficial start to the 2020 Cup Series, NASCAR announced that it had renewed its advertising deal with the media company.
While some were initially surprised at the Barstool-NASCAR partnership, last year’s success suggests that it could work. At the 2019 Daytona 500 – the first event between the duo – NASCAR saw a 32% increase in TV ratings in non-traditional markets Boston and Washington, D.C., two cities that are entrenched with Barstool. There was also a 44% bump in viewers on the FOX Sports Go app.
“NASCAR approached us ahead of the 2019 season as part of their big marketing push,” Deirdre Lester, Barstool’s chief revenue officer, wrote in an email. “They’d made a determination that they needed to invest in the NASCAR brand, reach out to new and younger consumers to convert to fans of the sport. Barstool was a natural fit because of our unprecedented engagement with their desired demographic and our high concentration in non-traditional racing markets. They also knew we weren’t talking about their sport, and they wanted to change that dynamic.”
Heading into the 2020 Daytona 500, things are a little different for Barstool. The media company recently sold a 36% minority stake to Penn National Gaming and is now valued at nearly $500 million.
With more money behind it, Barstool will heavily incorporate its content into advertising the Daytona 500. Beginning on Feb. 10, NASCAR sponsored Barstool’s The Rundown, one of Barstool’s online shows. Barstool Radio has been doing live reads promoting the event all week, as well as on number one sports podcast Pardon My Take and within Barstool’s social media channels.
There will be several other touchpoints between Barstool and NASCAR.
They include NASCAR’s sponsorship of Barstool’s betting segment Walk the Line, which will include picks for the race and be released Sunday before its start. Barstool founder Dave Portnoy will also feature NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson on his One Bite pizza-review show.
NASCAR, in turn, will host Portnoy, Barstool personality “Large” and “Uber Driver Debbie” in Daytona for content opportunities and Daytona 500 promotion.
Barstool will hold on-site promotions from Friday to Sunday alongside race events, including a live show on Sunday featuring NASCAR host Amy Long, Portnoy, Large, and special guest appearances by drivers.
“Fortunately, we’ve had the benefit of having a year under our belt [with Barstool],” Peter Jung, NASCAR’s senior vice president of marketing. “We also had a bit more time to be more honest, thoughtful, and purposeful with how we go about bringing this partnership to life in 2020.”
“They seem genuinely excited and interested to learn and immerse NASCAR into their culture,” Jung added.
The partnership around the Daytona 500 last year helped attract revenue and social media engagement. Content starring Portnoy garnered 118,000 social media engagements, and he was also the top influencer on Twitter during the event, according to NASCAR. The Barstool-Daytona 500 ticket package created $38,000 in ticket-sales revenue from fans who saw Denny Hamlin win his second Daytona 500.
“Dave Portnoy had never been to a race, and had no real interest in the sport,” Lester said. “That changed from the moment he touched ground at the Daytona 500. Despite that, our engagement on social and the interest from our fans was phenomenal. We drove significant rating increases in non-traditional markets, Dave took the #1 influencer on social spots around several marquee races, and we converted our own personalities and fans into NASCAR enthusiasts.”
“NASCAR really came alive at Barstool Sports,” she added.
Following last year’s race, Barstool’s involvement in NASCAR intensified. Portnoy began featuring drivers like Corey Lajoie, Chase Elliott, and Hamlin in One Bite videos. Hamlin also appeared on Pardon My Take after his win.
The partnership took on a new shape when Barstool became the primary sponsor of Matt DiBenedetto’s #95 car for three races last season.
“I think that Erika [Nardini, Barstool’s chief executive officer], Deirdre, and Dave would all say that they were even surprised at how much kind of affection and passion that mutually we had,” Jung said. “Candidly, I don’t think there was a lot of understanding or knowledge of NASCAR and the sport, the drivers, the experience. I think they were, to be honest, a little blown away with Daytona and then some of the subsequent experiences that they had.”
Although Barstool and NASCAR have shown signs of a successful partnership, the company hasn’t had a long track record with other sports properties that it has worked with. In October 2017, ESPN ended its partnership with Barstool after airing just one episode of its new late-night talk show, “Barstool Van Talk.”
Ahead of the second game of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, fans at TD Garden were handed Barstool-sponsored rally towels. It sparked criticism that the Bruins’ relationship with Barstool ran counter to the team and the NHL’s diversity and inclusion efforts through the “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.
Barstool declined to comment on its past relationships with the Bruins and ESPN.
Alex Evans, managing director at L.E.K. Consulting, doesn’t think Barstool’s past sports relationships should be used to evaluate its NASCAR affiliation. Recent weeks have seen Barstool and NASCAR come closer together by each inking deals with Penn National Gaming.
While Evans understands Barstool’s controversial history with sports properties, there’s no one answer as to if more should work with it.
“I don’t know if [Barstool] will make sense for everyone and if the brand makes sense to associate with,” Evans said. “But for entities that are looking to access that younger, male, engaged audience of Barstool and what it brings, it can make a lot of sense. I also could see certain leagues may not want to go that route.”
All along, Jung and NASCAR have admired Barstool for its authentic voice. It might be polarizing to some, but Jung believes that it has been able to cultivate one of the most loyal audiences in sports media.
Jung is also excited about what lies ahead between NASCAR and Barstool. With Penn National’s investments in both companies, he thinks it opens another world of opportunities for them without either side having to make any sacrifices.
“We want any partner to be themselves and represent themselves and their perspective of our sport, our community, and our experiences,” Jung said. “The way that they would and not have to try to put a filter on anything.”