Dave Portnoy, the controversial founder of sports media operator Barstool Sports, has repurchased the company, reclaiming full control from national gambling operator Penn Entertainment.
He spoke on the matter in an “emergency press conference” video posted on his social media channels.
“I have purchased back Bartstool Sports from Penn,” he said. “That is right, for the first time in a decade, I own total control of Barstool Sports.”
Under the deal, Portnoy relinquishes control of the online sportsbook side of the business to Penn. Penn plans to relaunch the operation in collaboration with global sports media giant ESPN.
Penn Entertainment, previously known as Penn National Gaming, bought 36% of Barstool in 2020. It then paid $388 million for the other 64% of the company earlier this year.
It is unclear how much Portnoy paid to gain back complete control of the company he founded in Boston 20 years ago.
“Barstool Sports is a brand I built from the ground up. It’s a personal endeavor, and I believe in its potential to grow and evolve. I’m excited to be back in full control and won’t be selling it again,” he said.
“Denied Licenses Because of Me”
Portnoy’s decision to buy back Barstool Sports was not entirely unexpected. The founder and former owner hinted earlier this year that a change of direction might be coming.
Under Penn National Gaming’s ownership, the brand had expanded its reach, especially in the sports betting arena. However, Portnoy’s often controversial media comments and on the knuckle nature of some Barstool Sports media has made them a tough sell with some regulators.
Previously only speculation, Portnoy confirmed this point himself in his video statement.
“We underestimated just how tough it is for myself and Barstool to operate in a regulated world,” he said.
“Every time we did something, it was one step forward, two steps back. We even got denied licenses because of me, you name it.”
With its founder back at the helm, fans and followers expect a renewed focus on content that resonates with the core Barstool audience. The very same segment that helped built the brand up from a printed publication handed out on Boston street corners two decades ago.
“For the first time in forever, we don’t have to watch what we say, how we talk, what we do. It’s back to the pirate ship,” Portnoy said.
$2 Billion Rebrand
While Portnoy and Barstool may be big news in the sports media world, national focus has been on Penn’s intention to rebrand the sportsbook operation with ESPN.
Although Barstool is a widely known U.S national brand, especially in sports media circles, it is hardly anything on the scale of ESPN. The veteran global sports broadcaster has annual revenues of around $4 billion, compared to around $200 million a year for Barstool in recent years (pending Penn’s Q2 2023 results announcement).
Even if that has turned around in the last quarter, Barstool Sportsbook was part of a loss-making period for Penn in Q1 2023.
Switching to a big name like ESPN, which can instantly go live in 16 licensed markets, will likely have a significant impact when it launches.
Nationally, DraftKings and FanDuel have dominated most other online sportsbook operators. So it will be interesting to see if Penn’s $2 billion bet on its new sportsbook partner will pay off.
Meanwhile, for long-time Barstool fans, the spotlight remains firmly on what Portnoy’s regained control means for the brand. Many will be no doubt hoping its founder delivers on his promises, with Barstool Sports returning to the kind of edgy, unfiltered content that initially garnered its considerable following.
Portnoy has already made a revealing move on this front. Barstool confirmed this week that it has rehired podcast host Ben “Mintzy” Mintz, after he was fired for repeating a racial slur live on air while rapping along to a Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony song.
Speculation at the time was Penn execs pressured Portnoy to drop Mintz after the incident. That has seemingly been confirmed with Mintz’s immediate rehiring after Penn and Barstool’s separation.