Occasionally we here at Neurogadget like to think about the nature of digital businesses. Whether it’s hardware or software, media or work, the world is all digital now. And whereas we generally like to focus more on reviewing technology, we can’t help but see an interesting transition into the world of sports.
Let me make a rather bold analogy here. ESPN and BarStool Sports at present, are the Microsoft and Apple of the 1990s, respectively. It’s a loose analogy of course, since BarStool is really more of a community, and ESPN is more of a broadcast company. But therein-lies the point. The world is becoming increasingly more connected and digital community oriented. No one is super excited to claim that they are a big fan of ESPN because ESPN is the legacy telephone company of sports consumption. It’s always there, and most people flop on the couch and let it play in the background while they multi-task with their phones or eat 2500 calories of awesome.
As a sports fan, do you have the multiple ESPN apps on your home screen? If so, how often do you use them? My guess is almost never, unless you are checking scores.
For most people, ESPN is not the cool kid on the block. Enter BarStool Sports. BarStool has been around for a long time, but whats really interesting about it is it’s sustainable growth and dedicated fan following. BarStool has some of the most outrageously good user Analytics statistics of any site on the web, and because of that, it’s a little bit like a cult. But when a cult gets big enough, all of a sudden it’s a religion, with the ability to influence society at large.
It’s pretty obvious that ESPN is going through tough times. The cable subscription business, which has been the life blood of ESPN since it’s inception, is dwindling. And ESPN, which Disney acquired in 1996, has been pulling their stock down due to it’s dropping revenue. It was once worth more than $50B and is likely worth less than half of that now. So with BarStool only worth maybe 1% of that, why make the claim that it will eventually be more valuable than ESPN?
Simple. Enthusiasm. El Presidente (David Portnoy) who founded BarStool sold his property to Chernin Digital Group in 2016 for a measly $10-15M. However, El Presidente probably made the right move at the time, because the site was so niche and focused, that it probably wasn’t going to grow beyond the 5M monthly readers it had. Erika Nardini, the now CEO, has taken the company from a rag-tag group of rowdy internet entrepreneurs, to a highly-engaged brand worthy of recognition. If the trend continues, BarStool will continue on the path of the scrappy David vs Goliath, Apple vs. Microsoft. After enough time, and evolving the brand to better serve a general audience, BarStool should become the Goliath.
I can picture BarStool winning distribution rights to games, with franchises like the NFL wanting to be represented by a more engaged audience. And so BarStool needs to start thinking beyond content and community, into the next steps of business growth.
The underlying question here is can BarStool grow from a hardcore dedicated content audience, to a more mainstream digital brand? It’s happened many times before with countless brands, and BarStool as the enthusiast audience to get there.