It almost happened. We were close to having the Barstool Sports Bowl in Mobile, Alabama on Jan. 6, 2020. (Or would the game have been the Barstool Bowl? That has a slightly better ring to it.)
According to Sports Business Journal‘s Mark J. Burns, the popular sports and pop culture outlet went deep into discussions with Mobile’s bowl game on a sponsorship agreement. Terms had actually been agreed upon before the deal fell apart due to outside influences.
.@barstoolsports Barstool was in the running to sponsor a college football bowl game in Mobile, Ala., @markjburns88 reports. The sponsorship ended up going to @LendingTree. SBJ Media is live: 🔒https://t.co/CUSFtmSJQ7🔒 pic.twitter.com/4PDLsZBeaD
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) November 26, 2019
As a result, we’ll get the LendingTree Bowl, which is a letdown. Just another boring corporate sponsor for a game that could attract some attention with the right title partner. Instead, we get a different version of the GMAC Bowl or Dollar General Bowl. At least the GoDaddy Bowl was kind of interesting. To watch this game live, check out this article.
But as Burns reports, both ESPN and the NCAA were skittish on Barstool being the title sponsor for a bowl game. ESPN didn’t want to provide advertising for a sports media competitor. The network and Barstool also have some contentious history, notably over the “Barstool Van Talk” show (a TV version of the Pardon My Take podcast) that was canceled after just one episode had aired in a 1 a.m. ET timeslot. Then-ESPN president John Skipper cited Barstool’s content as a reason for the cancellation, while several reports circulated of several network employees voicing opposition to the partnership.
Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy confirmed the report Tuesday morning:
This is true. @espn killed it because they are scared of us. Honestly I would have killed it if I was them to. No need to feed the company that is eventually going to eat you. Just a matter of time till we get a bowl game though. https://t.co/ljzq2uWgNa
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) November 26, 2019
Regardless of the reasons for the agreement falling through, the fact that Barstool was even in discussions for such a sponsorship is notable. While the Mobile, Alabama bowl game doesn’t warrant the multi-million sponsorship fees (ranging from $20 million to over $30 million) that a top-tier bowl can demand, Dollar General paid $200,000 to be the title sponsor for each of the past two events. (That’s significantly down from the $900,000 GMAC paid for title sponsorship from 2000 to 2010.)
Sponsoring a college football bowl game seems like a natural next step for Barstool, which has invested in partnerships with NASCAR and purchased the Rough N Rowdy amateur boxing event. ESPN’s refusal to partner with Barstool is certainly an obstacle, but the network doesn’t broadcast every bowl game (though it certainly seems that way).
Bowl games are also shown on Fox, FS1, and CBS Sports Network. Barstool could reach an agreement with one of the bowls shown on those channels. And though the NCAA reportedly has reservations about associating with the Barstool brand, money obviously drives these conversations. And if a Barstool sponsorship is a difference between a particular bowl game being played or not, networks and the game’s host city could certainly be interested. It only seems like a matter of time before this happens.