A few weeks ago, news broke that Barstool Sports 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 others to associate with them.
From the 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, alluding to Barstool’s complicated history with certain networks, including ESPN. Instead of navigating the politics of a media partner, the title sponsor offered its services.
That hesitancy by some to be seen as supporters or partners to Barstool isn’t something that is going away, even as the company is reportedly in talks to expand their broadcasting efforts with Major League Baseball.
Case in point, the Pima County Board of Supervisors recently voted 4-1 to withdraw almost $40,000 in funding from the Arizona Bowl and request that the county’s name is 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.”
The board looked at a series of comments and online posts made by Portney over the years before voting, which reportedly included his infamous “you kind of deserve to be raped” comment from 2010.
Arizona Bowl executive director Kym Adair also sent a letter supporting the game’s decision to work with Barstool Sports and calling out their “commitment to diversity” which includes a staff of 280 that is “inclusive of every race, creed, color, and sexual orientation.” She also noted that while Barstool has “missed” in early comedy efforts, they have “evolved from those early years.”
The lone supervisor who voted against the withdrawal of funds, Steve Christy, who is a Republican, called Arizona Bowl leaders “the best examples of good judgment and leadership.”
Supervisor Rex Scot, a Democrat, said that while “I have no right to judge [Barstool employees]…I do have the right to do is be one of five people who decide if the county’s name and the public revenues entrusted to us should be associated with a bowl that has Barstool Sports as a title sponsor, and that I cannot do.”
Pulling funding from the game probably isn’t going to make or break it, but it’s a reminder that while the Barstool brand continues to grow and compete with major networks, it will continue to reckon with the bricks used to build its empire.