Over the summer, Barstool Sports announced that it would not only become the new sponsor of the Arizona Bowl but the college football game would be exclusively broadcast on Barstool’s website, app, and social media platforms.
The multi-year deal was seen as a big step forward for the controversial sports media company, though the reasons they ended up becoming the game’s broadcaster also seems to have something to do with their reputation and the lack of interest from ESPN and other broadcasters to associate with them. Barstool CEO Erika Nardini said as much in a Sportico article announcing the deal:
“It became clear our title sponsorship would have an implication on where the Arizona Bowl could be broadcast,” Nardini said.
However, bringing the Arizona Bowl coverage in-house didn’t exactly solve all their issues. In August, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to withdraw almost $40,000 in funding from the Arizona Bowl and request that the county’s name be removed from the game’s website. According to Tuscon.com, the board made the decision based largely on “a series of inflammatory statements and tweets made by Barstool founder Dave Portnoy.”
This was well before the latest round of bad publicity for Portnoy and Barstool, stemming from a Business Insider article that included allegations by multiple women of sexual violence and intimidation. In an attempt to clear his name, Portnoy has employed various intimidation tactics to prove these allegations are unfounded.
Meanwhile, bowl season is almost upon us and that means it won’t be long before we find out which two teams will play in the Arizona Bowl. The game currently has tie-ins with the Mountain West Conference and Mid-American Conference and it’s not uncommon for one of the MWC’s top teams to end up here.
The San Diego State Aztecs are in a pretty good place right now. At 9-1, they’re in line to play for the Mountain West title on December 4. This season, the winner of the MWC automatically plays in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium, assuming they don’t find their way into one of the New Year’s Six bowls instead.
However, if SDSU falters at some point, there’s a decent chance they’ll be in line to end up in the Arizona Bowl, surrounded by Barstool-brand coverage and, in effect, partnering with that brand in the build-up to the game. And according to Krik Kenney at the San Diego Union-Tribune, that is a place that the school might decide it doesn’t want to be in.
“I would say that what they purport to be and who we are, are two very different things,” SDSU AD John David Wicker said. “We’ll work with the conference to be in the appropriate place.
“We’ve definitely had some staff people that have voiced their very strong opinion that they do not in any way, shape or form appreciate what Barstool is. The way they talk about women and things like that. I would definitely have to agree with a lot of their sentiments.”
Kenney asked Wicker directly if the Aztecs would refuse to play in the Arizona Bowl if selected and the AD demurred on an official answer.
“I can’t make a comment on a hypothetical at this point, so we’ll work through it as we get to it,” said Wicker. “The big thing is making sure we take care of our kids on the field and get them the opportunity appropriately and we’ll see where that goes.”
When the Business Insider article was released last week, the Arizona Bowl released a statement saying they were “closely monitoring the situation.” In the past, Arizona Bowl executive director Kym Adair has defended Barstool, saying “we felt like this was a company that was growing and evolving and we felt very comfortable aligning with them.”