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On paper, it may appear to be an odd coupling, but sports betting is behind the possible acquisition of controversial sports websites, Barstool Sports, by Penn National Gaming. The gambling company, with 41 properties in 19 states, have made a move to purchase a majority stake in the sports site from The Chernin Group, the primary owner of Barstool.
Valued at over $100 million, Barstool has gained a notorious reputation for off-color humor, wildly popular podcasts such as Pardon My Take, and a deep love of sports betting. The site’s unabashed focus on wagering has drawn the attention of Penn National as a possible partner that could enhance the gaming company’s profile and vast casino holding across the United States.
Barstool’s founder, Dave Portnoy, added gasoline to the fire of the Penn National rumors by offering a quote that seemed to suggest a partnership with the sports website would create instant awareness for the acquiring company.
“We continue to speak or have spoken with everybody from DraftKings to FanDuel to Stars to PointsBet to Penn to WillamHill to MGM to Rush Street, etc,” Portnoy said through a Barstool spokesperson. “I think that if we align ourselves with one company with a shared vision, that company would have an extraordinary advantage in the race to become the leading gambling company in the United States.”
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Although Barstool has become renowned for its outlandish take on sports and a variety of subjects, the same cannot be said for the quiet and little known gaming company known as Penn National, making a potential merger a strange bedfellow for the gambling industry.
Penn National would undoubtedly market the Barstool brand in their casinos and sportsbooks. Speculation also exists that Penn Gaming’s move into online sports betting could come under the Barstool umbrella as the two companies find their way into benefiting each other.
Barstool already has focused content on its site that publishes sports betting stories and videos. The company also offers free wagering games to visitors under the company’s Barstool Bets website.
What remains to be seen if the acquisition occurs is the continuing role of Barstool founder Dave Portnoy moving forward. Portnoy has a flair for saying outlandish things in an attempt to garner attention, something that a modest gaming company might not have the stomach for over the long term.
Portnoy sold controlling stake of Barstool in 2016 to The Chernin Group for $10 million. Two years later, the group put another $15 million into the company to bring the valuation of Barstool Sports to over $100 million in total value.
What Penn National may learn is that partnering with Barstool comes at great risk to your public image, something ESPN learned the hard way after protests and backlash to the company’s partnership with Barstool ended a chat show after just one episode aired on the sports network.
ESPN’s President at the time, John Skipper, wrote in a statement that canceled the show and the partnership, “I erred in assuming we could distance our efforts from the Barstool site and its content.”
The Chernin Group is motivated to move Barstool for the same reasoning that ended the ESPN partnership, as executives are tired of attempting to defend their ownership of the controversial sports-centered site.
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