Bowl games used to be the pinnacle of college football. But over the past few years, they’ve been rapidly losing their value. Most notably, they’ve become bloated beyond belief. This upcoming season there will be forty-four bowl games, with a good chance that a few teams with a losing record will still qualify. More recently, star players have been skipping some of the less prestigious bowl games to focus on their NFL future. Then when the CFP announced the plan to move to a new 12-team playoff with some of the biggest games of the postseason moving onto campuses, it seemed like the nail in the coffin. That future got a little murkier yesterday when Barstool Sports announced that they were both sponsoring and broadcasting this year’s Arizona Bowl. No matter what happens this New Years Eve, it will give us a glimpse into the future of bowl games.
Barstool has been talking about sponsoring a bowl game for a few years now, but brands have been hesitant to partner with them. Barstool has a problematic past and has become a bit of a cultural lightning rod. This post isn’t about that, though. It’s about bowl games. And love them or hate them, Barstool finally got one. Strangely enough, that controversy is what’s made this so interesting. The company’s messaging heavily implies that they’re broadcasting the event because no traditional media outlet would agree to partner with them. By streaming the game online and through social media, Barstool is carrying the college football postseason into modernity. (Quick side note: it’s perfect that the bowl is moving from CBS, aka the dinosaurs of network TV). People have talked for a while about streaming companies getting involved in live sports, but not like this. Barstool is a major brand, but it’s certainly not Amazon or Facebook. If the Arizona Bowl is a success, then we could see brands getting involved in live sports on a much smaller scale.
In a roundabout way, the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl is yet another example of how powerless the NCAA has become. For years, the league’s policy has been that athletes are not allowed to bet on sports in any capacity. They’ve even gone so far as to run the awful “Don’t Bet On It” campaign during March Madness without a hint of self-awareness. There’s no way they’d let a sports betting company anywhere near the sport, right? Welp, not only is Barstool owned by Penn National Gaming, but they’re also launching the Barstool Sportsbook in the state of Arizona. College football went from “betting is evil” to entire games being giant casino advertisements all under the NCAA’s watch.
Streaming is the future. It’s the future of movies, TV, and sports. ESPN has finally realized this and begun to funnel content to ESPN+, but the rest of the media world has been lagging behind. Barstool is now in a position to change that. Will it be successful? Probably not. Can they challenge ESPN’s postseason dominance? I seriously doubt it. But if they pull this off, it will change the sports media landscape forever.