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- 1 month ago

Barstool Sports CEO details the brand s TikTok strategy that has made the app its top source of new audience growth

Summary List PlacementThe media brand Barstool Sports has regularly reinvented itself during its nearly two-decade existence. It started as a handout newspaper for Boston sports fans, fantasy football players, and gamblers. After going digital, it expanded heavily into podcasting, social media, and more recently pizza and gambling (again). And now it s betting on TikTok. 45% of our new audience growth in 2020 was from TikTok, CEO Erika Nardini told Insider. Nardini said Barstool has dedicated employees who spend all day thinking about TikTok. And the company is eyeing the short-form video app when it s considering where to hire new on-air talent. I want to find personalities who are interesting and who out of their own propulsion have been able to create followings on TikTok, Nardini said. Among its media peers, Barstool s presence on the app is enviable. The company has over 12 million followers on its main TikTok account and millions of people following the accounts of its on-air personalities and podcasts. It s also integrated TikTok into its podcast strategy, teaming up its founder Dave Portnoy, 43, with an 18-year-old TikTok star named Josh Richards for a weekly show called BFFs. On the show, the pair talk about internet culture and TikTok drama, some of which involves Richards and members of his TikTok collective, the Sway House (a group started by the TikTok talent agency TalentX Entertainment where Richards is a founding partner). Portnoy first visited the Sway House in October to lift weights alongside Richards and Sway members Bryce Hall and Blake Grey. The duo may seem like an odd match on the surface. There s 20 years difference in age, Nardini said. There s a difference in where they live on the internet [and] what they re interested in. But the cohosts have some in common. Both are internet stars and entrepreneurs. And both have risen to prominence by navigating controversy in order to grow even more famous. In Portnoy s case, the media exec has had to respond to criticisms around online bullying and the use of racist language in his videos. Richards and the Sway Boys have drawn the ire of the media (and the city of LA) for throwing parties during the pandemic, a storyline that has similarly helped the group gain attention online. In the third episode of BFFs, the pair chatted briefly about how all media attention — even negative stories — can be beneficial for social-media stars. Usually we re like, Media, press, let s f-ing run it, Richards told Portnoy. Why a podcast that blends Barstool Sports and Sway House works The parallels between the Sway House and Barstool Sports aren t lost on Nardini. Barstool is kind of the company version of the Sway House, she said. You re creating storylines. You re developing personalities. You re creating a common place where things can happen and chemistry can occur. You re creating a lifestyle. And we ve done that at Barstool Sports. Do I think that it helps them that they re viewed as somewhat controversial? Absolutely, she added. Do I think that TalentX is trying to create an alchemy that breeds stars? 100%. Are they going to try to productize that and monetize it the same way we do? Definitely. Members of TalentX and Sway House have already made moves to monetize their brand in ways that mirror some of Barstool s strategies. They sell merchandise. They launched their own energy drink brand in July. And the group did a broader podcast push late last year, launching three other shows alongside BFFs. I m a little bit of a shock seeker and a lot of the guys are too, Michael Gruen, VP of talent at TalentX Entertainment, told Insider in October. I m more excited about making these interesting pairings. Breaking the internet. Making people go, What the hell? Read more: Inside the podcast push of TikTok group Sway LA, who ve launched 4 shows in Apple s top 100 as they aim to shock fans and detractors With the launch of BFFs, both Portnoy and Richards are able to reach new audiences and age groups that would have been difficult to acquire on their own. And the ability to reach new users — rather than make money off of them — is what s most appealing about TikTok to Barstool in the short term, Nardini said. TikTok doesn t have to bear the pressure of monetization, she said. I m more interested in TikTok on creating content that people like there that works there and then finding ways when we do monetize that it s accretive to the experience. As with other media companies like The Washington Post, The Infatuation, and Brother that have built followings on TikTok, Barstool has focused on personality-driven videos and leaning into existing TikTok trends rather than bringing in clips from Barstool shows. Read more: A media company explains how it s gotten attention on TikTok with music, employee personalities, and lo-fi production You ve got to study the platform, Nardini said. If you look at a more traditional company or a legacy company or a league, they think about it the opposite way. They re like, What do we have rights to and how can we cut this thing up and put this thing in all the places that we can? They start by looking at themselves, and we start by looking at the platform. And while TikTok is a focus area for Barstool this year, the company — which has long prided itself on its ability to adapt to the changing tastes of the internet — is also eyeing another up-and-coming social app: OnlyFans. They ve created a phenomenon, Nardini said of OnlyFans, a subscription content and messaging platform that has recently taken off in the influencer world after gaining popularity among sex workers. A subscription-based phenomenon that is very smart. They will move out of the sex category or bikini photo category, so I think they re one to watch. We re thinking about them a lot. Read more: A wave of startups is betting that text messaging will surge as a way for influencers, media companies, and brands to reach fans — and make moneyJoin the conversation about this story NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world s most expensive liquid


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