Super Bowl Kicks Off Pivotal Month for Barstool Sports CEO

Erika Ayers shares her gambling-centric strategy on the cusp of Penn Entertainment fully acquiring the company

Erika Ayers Barstool Sports
Barstool Sports

When Super Bowl LVII kicks off in Arizona, on Sunday, Barstool Sports will be among the many media outlets on the ground celebrating the big game, but in its own distinctive way.

The irreverent brand will be everywhere in state, from hosting its own mini-golf “open” in Phoenix to a trivia competition in Scottsdale, which is also the home city to a new Barstool-branded bar where the company’s podcasters will be out in force.

But February is a pivotal period for Barstool not just because of the Super Bowl; casino operator Penn Entertainment is expected to finalize the acquisition of the 64% of Barstool it doesn’t already own before the end of the month, to the tune of $550 million.

The deal marks the transformation of a property best known for cult-like following around its controversial founder, Dave Portnoy, from merely dabbling in sports-betting coverage to putting it front and center across its many brands, ensuring Penn can market itself to Barstool’s rabid audience.

“The way we’ve talked about sports betting is to make it very conversational, and to really make sports betting an organic, authentic and integrated part of what we do,” said Erika Ayers, CEO of Barstool, on the latest episode of Variety’s Strictly Business podcast. “The vision of what Penn wants and the vision that Dave and I had for the business are really very closely aligned.”

In addition to incorporating sports betting, Ayers’ vision for Barstool is a heavily diversified mix of ad-supported original video, podcasts, merchandise and, more recently, broadcast rights to select games like last year’s Arizona Bowl. There will be more such deals, according to Ayers, but the telecasts will always have Barstool’s trademark edgy sensibility.

“What I really believe in is the infusion of comedy and entertainment in a broadcast experience of live sports,” she said. “That’s going to be the future. And I really see us at the forefront of that.”

If Ayers seems to have too much on her plate, she doesn’t take it as criticism. “This is almost like the ultimate ADHD company,” she joked. “We’re flying all over the place, which is I think where we’ll stay.”

Ayers first appeared on “Strictly Business” in late 2019.

“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

VIP+ Analysis: Ratings Rebound in Store for Super Bowl