Barstool Sports, the US-based sports and pop culture platform, is in advanced discussions with North America’s Major League Baseball over securing live broadcast rights to midweek MLB games, it has been reported.
The talks, first reported by the New York Post, have started recently, and have the potential to lead to a new type of MLB broadcast experience being created, with an emphasis on in-game betting and gambling, which Barstool features as a significant part of its output.
The rights package in question is a two-game midweek rights bundle (Mondays and Wednesdays), fixtures that currently have no live broadcast partner. The games were previously carried by US sports broadcasting giant ESPN, but that network dropped them as part of its most recent rights renewal with the league.
In May, when the new ESPN-MLB deal was announced – a seven-year renewal to 2028, understood to be worth around $3.92 billion, or $560 million per year, giving ESPN rights to 30 regular-season games – it was reported that the league was already seeking a streaming partner to offer coverage from the Monday and Wednesday games ESPN had left behind.
Other bidders for these rights are reported to include YouTube, which already has a deal in place to stream 21 MLB games worldwide (for free) during the ongoing 2021 regular season, and which has shown live fixtures since 2019.
The NYP has quoted one source as saying it’s “50-50” whether an agreement between MLB and Barstool is struck, with nothing yet certain.
David Portnoy, Barstool’s president, responded to a Twitter post featuring the report by simply saying: “No comment.”
MLB for some time has been looking to attract a younger, potentially more betting-focused audience, and has recently launched ‘Bettors’ Eye’, a dedicated show, on its over-the-top MLB Network service.
Currently, live domestic MLB broadcast rights are held by the national networks of ESPN, Fox, and Turner.
The 30 exclusive games to be held by ESPN next season will include 25 editions of its flagship Sunday Night Baseball offering, and the MLB Little League Classic.
ESPN will also exclusively air five additional midweek games each season, including opening night fixtures, and continue to carry the Home Run Derby as part of its cross-platform MLB All-Star Game coverage.
For each of its live events, ESPN will receive the rights to produce alternate presentations across its platforms and to simulcast all ESPN and ABC games on its ESPN+ streaming service
Warner meanwhile holds rights in a seven-year agreement until 2028, worth around $3.2 billion.
Fox also provides domestic coverage, showing the post-season World Series through 2028 after sealing a $5.1 billion renewal with MLB in November 2018.
Barstool, founded in 2003 as a sports blog, has diversified its revenue streams in recent years, and now has a presence in podcasts, merchandise sales and wagering (through Barstool Bets).
In January last year, casino operator Penn National Gaming paid $163 million for a 36 per cent stake in Barstool, leaving the Chernin Group, the previous controlling stakeholder, with the same percentage stake.
The site is now branching into live broadcasting, having last week secured rights to cover American football’s Arizona Bowl college football tournament.
Although Barstool has attracted a sizeable fanbase with its brash, confrontational style of punditry and analysis, critics have attacked its output – on various occasions over the last few years – as being both racist and sexist.