Pizza Hut helps Barstool Sports take on college basketball with the goal of expansion

The feature image is an illustration of people sitting in front of a TV watching sports.

The quickest way to Gen Z and young millennial hearts is through their stomachs — or at least that’s what media company Barstool Sports is betting on with its partnership with Pizza Hut.

Barstool is looking to expand beyond its media properties by hosting a college basketball tournament named Barstool Sports Basketball Invitational, which Pizza Hut is sponsoring, in an effort to cater to Gen Z and young millennial basketball fans. The media company is capitalizing on the hype with the goal of growing its reach as college basketball begins, with teams such as the University of Toledo Rockets, University of Alabama Blazers, University of Akron Zips and Mississippi State Bulldogs participating in the tournament.

Barstool and Pizza Hut conducted a social media campaign to promote the tournament, tapping into Barstools’ highly engaged and loyal fan base. Aside from digital ads on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, Barstool promoted short-form videos on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, all aimed at Gen Z and millennials consumers.

“We always have an ear to the ground which puts us ahead of the curve on emerging trends ranging from sports to lifestyle and entertainment,” said Matt Berger, svp and head of sales and partnerships at Barstool Sports. “At Barstool when we launch a personality or the brand on new platforms, our audience migrates with us.”

The financial agreement between Barstool and Pizza Hut was not disclosed.

To drive attendance and encourage more viewers to tune in to the Barstool Sports Basketball Invitational, Barstool has been promoting the event on all of its main social networks, including the Barstool Sports website, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok. In addition, Barstool personalities are pushing out content on their own social channels to drive interest and attendance.

Among the main goals of Barstool’s partnership with Pizza Hut, according to Berger, is to incorporate as much of the Barstool talent into the broadcast as possible. As part of that integration, they will also have ways to make Pizza Hut’s new Melts product line the center of attention, both in-person at the event and during the broadcast, with stunts from Barstool personality Spider as well as an in-game social campaign. Barstool will use all of its social platforms to reward players who execute certain plays in the game with free pizza and Pizza Hut merchandise.

According to data from Sprout Social, Barstool Sports has a combined average of 4.7 billion monthly social video views across all of its platforms Instagram (13.8 million followers), Twitter (4.5 million followers), TikTok (21 million followers), Facebook (4 million followers), YouTube (1.3 million subscribers) and Snapchat (398,000 followers), which is 58% higher YoY compared to 2.5 million in 2021. 

“Barstool has become the preeminent cultural launch pad and therefore a barometer for coveted and mercurial millennial and Gen Z audiences and our core audience is men and women aged 18-34, and we have content that appeals to every sub-group and sub-sub group within that demo,” said Berger.

It is unclear how much of Barstool’s advertising budget is allocated to the tournament, as Berger declined to share overall budget specifics. According to Pathmatics data, the brand has spent a little over $3.7 million so far on advertising efforts in 2022. Berger said that the ad spend was toward the social media platforms they use but did not comment on how it was split between the platforms.

Gen Z wants advertising to do things differently — i.e., more quickly — than previous generations. They’re used to constantly being marketed to because they grew up on social media. For building brand loyalty, immersive and experiential campaigns need to command attention and be genuinely engaging, according to marketers and agency execs.

“Historically, brands have found sports partnerships to be successful because it aligns them with the same passion inspired by their audiences’ teams,” said Doug Gallow, associate partner of client engagement at VSA Partners, a hybrid brand strategy and design agency. “And it’s effective particularly for the Gen Z audience that Pizza Hut is trying to get in front of because Barstool Sports has really tapped into that media form that Gen Z likes and it’s fast-paced, funny and has that low-fi quality Gen Z has become known for.”

Going forward, Barstool will continue to evolve the brand beyond its media properties. “We look forward to diversifying the content portfolio even further with more live events, custom merchandise, IP product launches and bringing fans and brands into the journey at every step of the way,” said Berger.

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