Barstool Sports tops 30k paying subscribers

The header image shows an illustration of a rocket ship with a barstool on it flying into space.

Barstool Sports has sold more than 30,000 people on its Barstool Gold subscription product, according to CEO Erika Nardini.

In January, Barstool Sports introduced Barstool Gold and sold more than 10,000 subscriptions within the first three days of the program’s debut. A Barstool Sports spokesperson said the company had expected subscription sales to spike early with its core audience signing up in the initial wave and that subscriptions have grown gradually since then. Of the more than 30,000 people that currently subscribe to Barstool Gold, 80% signed up for the annual plan, and roughly 60% of total subscribers signed up for the higher-price “hardcore” tier, according to the spokesperson.

Ten months after Barstool Gold’s introduction, the future of Barstool Sports’ subscription business is somewhat in flux as Barstool wrestles with how to build a recurring revenue stream for its business while building a big fan base for its talent. That dichotomy is not a new development, though it may be aggravated by the growth of Barstool Sports’ overall audience over the past year. In October 2019, 8.6 million people in the U.S. visited the publication’s site, up 436% year over year, according to Comscore.

“We’re very mindful of that tension. We have personalities who want to find more fans and become more recognized, make content that makes people laugh and to reach as many people as possible. A subscription product can be counter to that; at the same time it brings you closer to a really loyal customer, a really loyal fan,” Nardini said.

Barstool Sports continues to sort out the future of its subscription business, including what content to put behind the paywall and whether to introduce other subscription products, Nardini said.

But there’s also the future of Barstool Sports still to be determined. The Chernin Group is considering selling a majority or minority stake in the publisher to a sports gambling company, according to The Big Lead. Asked about the acquisition talks, Nardini said that “we’re talking to a ton of people” as Barstool Sports did more than a year and a half ago before The Chernin Group opted to invest more money in the publisher.

Barstool Sports is “not really looking at M&A in the media space,” said Nardini, who said the publisher is profitable but declined to discuss revenue figures. Instead she sees the publisher as being a better fit with a sports gambling company and noted that 60% of Barstool Sports’ audience are bettors. “When Dave [Portnoy, the publication’s founder] started Barstool Sports, he started it as a betting newspaper,” she said.

Gambling companies and sports publishers alike have seized on connecting sports betting and media after the Supreme Court last year overturned a ban on sports gambling outside of Nevada. Some media companies like the Score have introduced their own sports betting platforms, while others such as Vox Media have worked with the likes of DraftKings to create sports gambling verticals.

For its part, Barstool Sports debuted sports gambling vertical Barstool Bets in September. The property features weekly betting shows and free-to-play contests. Barstool Sports is also building “a gambling cave” in the middle of its office “where there will be games on 24/7 and people betting on games,” Nardini said.

Barstool Bets would make Barstool Sports an attractive acquisition target for gambling companies that could see it as a more efficient source for acquiring new bettors than traditional advertising, according to a former sports media exec. Barstool Gold would be another selling point. “Their subscription product and the fans they have credit card information for is valuable, although 30,000 is not a big number yet,” said this exec.

Ten months after Barstool Gold’s introduction, Barstool Sports is “still figuring out exactly what becomes of Barstool Gold, to be honest with you. We’re a company that’s so public that we’re trying to understand what sits behind the paywall,” said Nardini.

Barstool Sports has been dealing with the dilemma of what content to put behind the paywall since it decided to create the subscription program, which provides subscribers with perks like exclusive videos, bonus podcast episodes, fewer ads and access to exclusive merchandise. The publisher’s making-of documentary series “The Barstool Documentary” is exclusively available to Barstool Gold subscribers, but in March, the publisher made the series’ second episode available to all viewers. That remains the only episode that has been put in front of the paywall, but the publisher continues to consider whether the rest of the series should remain behind the paywall, Nardini said.

Barstool Sports is also weighing whether to introduce other subscription products, such as selling subscriptions through a third-party platform or getting into the subscription commerce market with a monthly merchandise box, said Nardini.

Even though Barstool Sports is still ironing out its subscription business, it continues to prove its ability to get people to pay. “Tens of thousands” of people pay $20 to watch the Rough N’ Rowdy amateur boxing matches that Barstool hosts, Nardini said. In October, the company announced that it had sold 1 million bottles of the Barstool-branded vodka that it created with New Amsterdam Vodka. And for Veteran’s Day this year, Nardini said Barstool Sports raised around $200,000 in three days for Headstrong, a nonprofit organization that provides mental health services to military veterans and their families.

As for whether another company will pay to buy Barstool Sports by the end of the year, Nardini isn’t offering any odds. “Oh I don’t know,” she said.

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