PHOENIX – When the Arizona State men’s basketball team opens its season in November, the game will stream on a unique platform and feature some popular and often controversial voices.
ASU announced Tuesday that it will open its season on Nov. 8 against Mississippi State at Wintrust Arena in Chicago as part of the Barstool Sports Invitational, a game that will be shown exclusively on Barstool.tv.
Jake Marsh, a sports business reporter for Barstool who doubles as Barstool’s go-to play-by-play analyst, said that ASU’s invitation to the tournament is a natural fit given ASU coach Bobby Hurley’s previous appearance on one of Barstool’s most popular podcasts, “Pardon My Take,” at the Final Four.
“There was already a built-in connection with Bobby Hurley,” Marsh said. “So I’m sure when ASU’s side presented this opportunity to him, he had already established that connection and knew who we were and had already been part of Barstool content. That seems like a natural connection.”
ASU will play at 7 p.m. ET in the second of two games, the first of which features Florida Atlantic and Loyola Chicago.
Marsh will be calling both games alongside controversial Barstool founder and owner Dave Portnoy as well as co-host Dan “Big Cat” Katz. The trio called last year’s inaugural Barstool Sports Invitational as well as December’s Arizona Bowl, both of which were also streamed exclusively on Barstool.tv.
Their broadcasts became known for their unconventional style, which involved Portnoy and Katz openly rooting for bets they had placed on the game, as well as promoting live odds on Barstool’s sportsbook.
“It’s definitely one of the most unique experiences I’ve had in the broadcast booth,” Marsh said. “Working with them is obviously unlike working with anyone else I’ll ever work with in my career.”
Barstool has made headlines in the past for controversial statements made by Portnoy, who has defended his use of racist and misogynistic language. Some speculate Barstool’s venture into live TV is part of a broader attempt to change the company’s image.
“With us, people care,” Barstool CEO Erika Ayers told Cronkite News in 2021. “They like us, they hate us but you rarely find anyone who’s indifferent.”
Marsh said hosting live sports takes this company to the next level. “I think the way we approach these broadcasts is very unique and unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”
The event announcement comes as Barstool attempts to navigate a difficult moment for digital media platforms. The New York Post reported last week that the company had laid off around 100 employees, nearly 25% of its staff. Barstool sold to PENN Entertainment, an entertainment company and gambling operator, in early 2020 but Portnoy bought the company back for $1 in August.
The rise of streaming content and the continued decentralization of live sports television may provide Barstool an opportunity to establish itself as a player in live sports broadcasting. Cable television usage fell 12.5% year-over-year in July 2022, according to an August report from Nielsen, an audience measurement and analytics firm.
The market is reacting in kind. Cable company Charter Communications has not broadcast ESPN for seven straight days as Charter and the Walt Disney Company, ESPN’s parent company, struggle to find an agreement on the broadcast rights for ESPN and other Disney-owned content.
For consumers gravitating away from cable as consumer options and preferences rapidly change, Marsh said Barstool’s foray into live sports presents an alternative.
“(Barstool) treats things very differently than everyone else. But I think that’s a good thing,” Marsh said. “So if you want different, this will be the place for you.”