Barstool Sports and the new-age Digital Blueprint

“Saturdays are for the Boys,” a phrase made popular by Barstool Sports personalities and their ravenous following, is a culmination of what a modern age digital strategy represents. Barstool Sports, by the common man – for the common man, is a popular sports and entertainment blog that has redefined the hub & spoke model associated with content marketing. It has also laid out a unique blueprint for how traditional companies can interact with their digital savvy consumers and most importantly, grow the community around their brand.

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The past five years has brought with it a paradigm shift in how the average person will consume information. This shift started with the proliferation of mobile devices and was accelerated by the rise in popularity of major platforms accessed on them. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, etc. have all played a role in the way brands interact with their audiences. What Barstool did was leverage these platforms to create a massive community around its brand, pushing out content, interacting with fans, integrating advertisers and selling merchandise. While much work was put into creating the brand, it only took a few short years to go from a niche sports blog, to a $100 million plus company.

In July 2016, Erika Nardini, a long time exec at companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL, joined Barstool as their new CEO. Commenting later on the decision, she exclaimed that “[founder] Dave Portnoy created a brand for consumers, and all he ever cared about – and all anyone whoever came to Barstool cared about – was how they connected with their crew”. They are able to reach consumers at all points of their digital lives as well as successfully bridging the gap between physical and digital experiences. It’s not just pushing content either, it’s relevant timely pieces that resonate with a large audience.

Redefining Influencer

The traditional hub and spoke method of content marketing has relied on a single hub, say an app or a website, with spokes that are designed to draw consumers to the hub. Barstool has redefined this method by utilizing traditional spokes to add value and create a community, while not solely focusing on driving to the hub. Take Facebook Live for example. The brand went head first into the platform, streaming 5+ times a week when it originally came out. They received hundreds of thousands of viewers for segments that included intern talent-shows, mock press conferences and even employees simply watching sporting events. It was entertaining content, but the community that was building around it was where the real value was to be had.

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The secret is in how each of these spokes operates. Every personality, from Big Cat (pictured) and KFC to newer additions like Liz Gonzalez, are essentially their own brand – their own spoke, complete with their own social media following and influencer status. Whether they’re a celebrity, topical, or local influencer, the content feels different but ultimately falls under the Barstool umbrella. These guys (and girls) are now able to use the Barstool platform to be influencers via their own brand attached to the company. Each one creates their own sub communities of fans, who ultimately, regardless of if they listen to one podcast or subscribe to another blogger, share the same sense of belonging under the overall Barstool umbrella.

As the company continues to grow, this community will latch on to the various podcasts, radio shows, blogs, video content and more that are produced on a daily basis. All the while growing outside of the space through their various social media channels. When negativity faces the company, as it does quite a bit in an era of Twitter PC police, ‘stoolies’ the term given to this community of fans – are there to shed light on the company in a positive way. It’s almost as if this fan base feels like they’re part of the growth. Like they can actively participate in the rise of the company, and take pride in doing so. It’s not just an army of fans, it’s an army of employees, doing their bidding in return for quality content.

Implications

While many of the behemoth entertainment companies refuse to acknowledge Barstools existence, it’s clear that they should try and take a play out of their book of tricks. By simply giving people quality content, at opportune places, Barstool Sports has garnished millions of followers and sold millions more in ad-revenue and merchandise. If the likes of ESPN (which discontinued a Barstool TV show after one episode), don’t want to pay attention, startups will.

Overtime, a network focused on creating sports content geared toward a younger audience –with an emphasis on storytelling of up-and-coming stars, seems to be learning a thing or two from Barstools blueprint. They realized that high school sports stars, of which have their own massive social media followings, didn’t have a single platform to be discovered. So they’ve integrated user generated content with that of these rising personalities, and created a place where a community can spread. Ultimately, Overtime followed the same Barstool blueprint, but instead of allowing bloggers to use their platform for influencer status, they’ve targeted high school athletes.

Now, Overtime has millions of views on its YouTube channels and a growing fan base of younger generation sports fans, that are going to keep interacting with each other through the various spokes. They’ve recently secured almost $10 million in funding and had the likes of Kevin Durant (among others) join on as investors. The sky is the limit.

What’s the ultimate take away for marketers looking to get this type of exposure for their brands? It’s no longer solely about the content you put out, but rather the interactions that your fans have, the community you’re able to build, and the sense of pride they get from belonging to your brand.

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