The Race to Create “Barstool Sports” At Universities

This headline caught my attention big time…

Alabama beat writer, Aaron Suttles, announced that he’s leaving The Athletic to join Yea Alabama (the NIL collective for The University of Alabama).

Headlines in themselves are never that important…

But the trends are worth exploring.

We’re in the 1st inning of a battleground to create “Barstool for Universities” across the college landscape.

Let’s dive in 👇

Barstool for Universities

For those of you that don’t know, Barstool Sports was created by Dave Portnoy in 2003 and was fully acquired by Penn Entertainment in 2022 for $387M.

barstool sports sells to penn entertainment

Greatly simplifying it — this was Barstool’s winning formula:

  1. Find talented content creators
  2. Put them on salary
  3. Provide them with Barstool’s resources
  4. Sells ads + merch against their content

When you think about it, this is the model of every media conglomerate throughout history.

However, the Barstool model became popular because they utilized non-traditional funnels (podcasts & social media) to grow the business.

And as we all know, the importance of eyeballs and attention is extremely important.

This has become evident throughout college athletics — hence the trend of creating media arms at Universities.

The Thought Process

European soccer clubs have some of the most exuberant fans in the world.

The closest comparison?

College football and basketball.

college football sold out stadium

It’s extremely tribal.

This intense fan loyalty is great for both media coverage and merchandise sales.

Let me give you a personal example…

When I was growing up, I was a huge Pitt basketball fan. The players I looked up to weren’t Lebron or Kobe — but Dejaun Blair, Levance Fields, and Ronald Ramon.

I saw them play in person, got autographs from them, and wore their jerseys.

If social media was around then, I would have wanted to see behind-the-scenes content of Pitt basketball players.

pitt basketball dejuan blair and levance fields

Thanks to NIL and social media, kids today are going to get to know college athletes much better.

So What’s Being Built?

The “Barstool for College Sports” race is on across the country.

It’s about setting up content arms at universities for student-athletes.

You can then sell ads/sponsors against the media and monetize additionally through merch, collectibles, and events.

I mean think about it…

If you’re a die-hard Ohio State fan, you’re telling me you wouldn’t…

  • buy a shirt to support the student-athletes?
  • watch clips of players taking you around the campus?
  • show up at an exclusive event hosted by the players?
  • listen to podcasts of players breaking down the last game?

Of course, you would — this is the Barstool Model applied to college athletics.

ohio state super fan

It’s also the first glimpse at a revenue model that actually makes sense for collectives (obviously pay to play isn’t sustainable).

But who’s trying to accomplish it?

Builders in This Space

The dynamic between the school’s athletic department and the collective(s) shapes a lot of this.

We’re seeing two different approaches…

  1. In-house
  2. 3rd party

Some universities are opting to build all of this in-house, while others are outsourcing it to 3rd party companies.

Here are some of the 3rd-Party Builders:

  1. Mercury – building out media arms and podcast channels for universities with behind-the-scenes access and merch stores (listen to my podcast with their CEO Porter Grieve here)
  2. The Player’s Lounge – creating digital collectible sales and media outlets with players at major Universities
  3. BrinxTV – created by John Brenkus, the founder of Sportscience (sold to ESPN), they recently acquired a stake in the NIL marketplace IconSource and have the goal of setting up content arms at universities
john brenkus sportscience
  1. NIL Marketplaces – as predicted a long time ago, the NIL marketplace scene would consolidate (many are now dipping into the agency or media game as well)
  2. Individual Collectives – some of the University-affiliated NIL collectives are keeping their content arms in-house (such as Yea Alabama, which is how I started this briefing)

Interestingly, many of these companies started with NFTs and have shifted over time to the media route.

Side note for investors — this shows the importance of betting on founders (look at how in just 1 year the business models have completely altered based on macroeconomics).

Going Forward

The arms race to set up “Barstool for Sports” is in full go-mode.

Every college athletic department across the country will now have its own little media channel.

media arms at athletic departments

The ultimate question…

Will they set it up internally or use 3rd parties?

  • If 3rd parties stay the norm — a few $100M companies will arise and possibly even a unicorn ($1B company).
  • If schools bring it in-house, A LOT of new jobs will be created.

The Golden State Warriors always talk about how they’re much more than just a basketball team…

Universities/Athletic Departments are heading in the same direction.

Fun times ahead 🥂

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