Barstool Sports is betting on its big names like Dave Portnoy to help its newly branded sportsbook take on DraftKings and FanDuel

  • Penn National Gaming's $163 million investment in Barstool Sports is being put to the test as it introduces its first Barstool-branded sportsbook.
  • The company is leaning on its in-house talent, like founder Dave Portnoy, who has 2.8 million followers on Instagram, to promote the sportsbook and engage users. 
  • It's offering gamblers the chance to compete head-to-head with Barstool personalities including Portnoy and Brandon Walker and win prizes.
  • Some industry experts question if the Barstool Sportsbook can hold its own against industry leaders like DraftKings and FanDuel, though.
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Barstool Sports founder and content chief Dave Portnoy is feeling the pressure. 

Earlier this year, before media and sports got swept up in the pandemic, regional-casino operator Penn National Gaming bought a stake in Barstool worth $163 million. The casino company wanted a recognizable digital brand to peg its upcoming sportsbook to as it set out to compete with the likes with established rivals DraftKings and FanDuel.

Shares of Penn have risen 138% year to date, while the S&P 500 index is up about 8%, in part because of confidence that Barstool can help Penn National become a dominant player in US sports betting.

Now, Penn National's investment is being put to the test as it introduces its first Barstool-branded sportsbook in Pennsylvania.

"For the first time in a long time, I feel extreme pressure at Barstool," Portnoy said in a video on September 17, the day before the sportsbook app officially launched in Pennsylvania. "People taking their hard-earned money and investing in the stock, in Penn, because they believe in Barstool and they believe in me. I take that very, very seriously."

Penn National operates the mobile sportsbook, but it's relying heavily on Barstool to help deliver audiences for the app instead of TV ads, billboards, and cash promotions, Portnoy told Business Insider.   

To do that, Barstool is using its big names like Portnoy who has 2.8 million followers on Instagram and 1.8 million on Twitter, to promote the app, execs there said.

In the sportsbook, gamblers can go head-to-head with Barstool's influencers. Bettors can see the latest picks by personalities including Portnoy, Brandon Walker, and Marty Mush, and choose to "back," and bet with, or "fade" and bet against them.

"These guys will take over-the-top, ridiculous bets," Erika Nardini, Barstool's CEO, said. "They're sharing their picks. They're making comedy about of sports betting and sports. And what's different about our sportsbook is that you can bet with us. It makes it more relatable."

Portnoy, who usually works out of Barstool's New York office, said he's been in Pennsylvania four or five days a week so he can legally place bets through the sportsbook and plug the app.

Barstool is also running a promotion called The Overs Club that will reward a jacket to gamblers who successfully bet $100 that a game will score more than the number of points the sportsbook predicts, known in gambling as betting on the "over."

Portnoy said he expects Penn to buy ads for the sportsbook, but said he wants to continue finding creative ways to promote it, too.

"Anybody can buy TV ads or sponsor a team," Portnoy said. "There's nobody who can do The Overs Club except us."

Sports-betting operators are signing deals with media companies like Barstool, Fox, and NBCUniversal to attract legions of sports fans who they hope will be more loyal to their sportsbooks than bettors seeking cash promotions and other offers.

Barstool Sportsbook is going up against established competitors

Still, not all analysts are convinced that the Barstool Sportsbook can hold its own against industry leaders like DraftKings and FanDuel.

Industry experts said Barstool Sportsbook's features like ability to bet with or against Barstool talent are little more than novelties, but could be differentiators if they help build a community within the sportsbook, like Barstool has done on its other digital channels. 

"If you string together enough novelty, you can bring together a significant advantage," Chris Grove, gambling-industry analyst and partner at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, said. "They have this thing that is unique: a community connected via culture. Other sportsbooks really don't have that."

Outside of the sportsbook, Barstool talent has been promoting the app in their social channels, in Portnoy's sports livestream, day-trading videos, and pizza reviews, through the outlet's comedy-sports video series likes "Barstool Sports Advisors," and in podcasts like gambling-preview show, "Walk the Line."

Users wagered $11 million through the Barstool Sportsbook, Penn National reported in a company filing. Pennsylvania is a crowded market with 10 mobile sportsbooks, including the Barstool Sportsbook. By comparison, in August when live sports returned, the market leader in the state, the FanDuel Sportsbook, captured $144.6 million in online wagering. FOX Bet, another media-branded sportsbook, brought in $22 million.

"We've entered a very competitive market place," Portnoy said. "We've made a dent early, and it reinforces the thesis that our crowd will follow us."

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