Report: MLB in “Significant” Talks to Broadcast Games via Barstool Sports

MLB and Barstool could "team up to create a new type of broadcast with a focus on in-game gambling"

MLB's Robert D. Manfred Jr.
Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred Jr. speaks during a press conference.
Justin Edmonds/Getty

Major League Baseball and Barstool Sports are in the midst of  “significant” negotiations about the latter starting to broadcast midweek MLB games online and there is a “50-50″ the two sides will reach an agreement, a source told The New York Post.

With a focus on national games, “MLB and Barstool potentially could team up to create a new type of broadcast with a focus on in-game gambling,” per The Post. MLB currently has national TV deals with Fox, Turner and ESPN.

The report from The Post comes on the heels of Barstool founder Dave Portnoy saying last week that his company had talks with “major leagues” while announcing his company had acquired the naming and broadcast rights to the Arizona Bowl, which will air on Barstool’s website. “Do you know we’re talking with major leagues?” he said. “When I say major leagues, like the four major sports. Ever since we announced the Arizona Bowl, major leagues are like, ‘We can give you the rights. We can give you the rights to call one of the major four leagues games.’ Not gonna say which one. We’re looking at it.”

It appears fairly obvious Portnoy was hinting at the recent talks with MLB, though both the league and Barstool declined to comment.

A partnership with Barstool would make a lot of sense for MLB, as it would instantly get baseball in front of a younger audience as well as put the game on a viewing platform other than television, an area where baseball is struggling to draw viewers, again. Compared to the last full season back in 2019, the league is seeing a double-digit drop in TV households watching pro baseball, according to Forbes.

“While fans are slowly returning, it should be expected that engagement for sports is down with the pandemic affecting fans going to restaurants and bars, as well as the venues where games are played, “ said Craig Sloan, president of Home Team Sports, told the publication. “So, it may take some time for viewership to rebound to pre-pandemic levels as we saw in 2019. I just don’t think fans are acting the way that they have done previously before the pandemic.”

A betting-focused partnership with Barstool would certainly give MLB a shot to make new, younger fans part of its base, but it would also put baseball at risk of alienating some of its longtime supporters, who potentially wouldn’t like their sport associating with gambling or Portnoy and his crew. Noting that many MLB players like Barstool’s content, The Post also stated that “doing business with Barstool could come with controversy for MLB, as Barstool has been accused of being misogynistic.”

As the Star-Tribune notes, Barstool and misogyny basically go hand-in-hand, and MLB has to know that.

“Accused? I mean, it’s sort of central to the Barstool premise,” the Star-Tribune‘s Michael Rand writes. “Not all of Barstool caters to this mindset, but ‘a few bad apples’ is a dangerous place to exist. Rethinking what that means — and the well-deserved backlash that comes with partnering with Barstool — was enough for ESPN to cancel a partnership show, Barstool Van Talk, after just one episode. If MLB thinks it can get just the parts of Barstool it wants and not the ones it doesn’t want, this line from that linked Daily Beast piece is something to consider: ‘Any attempt to rein in (founder Dave) Portnoy or the harassment would transform Barstool into something that is not Barstool.’”

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