When NASCAR announced that it was partnering with Barstool Sports back at the start of 2019, opinions were as strong as they were mixed. But no matter how you feel about it, the party is coming to an end... at least for a little while.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the partnership dry up, Sports Business Daily reports, but there are indications that recent Black Lives Matter activations have played a role. Founder Portnoy noted that the deal was paused in a September episode of the Dave Portnoy Show podcast:
Hopefully we re-look at [the deal] in a year or so — so, obviously, I love Clint [Bowyer], friendly, like him in every way he can be liked — this guy is a good dude. So COVID happened, we stopped, we start picking up a little bit but it’s like: ‘Do I have to go to the office?’ And then to be honest, NASCAR had so many (Black Lives Matter) issues, and I started having BLM issues, and it just was like: ‘Is this the right time for either of us to co-join just from an aesthetics point of view?’ And the answer was probably like: ‘Let’s let it settle,’ it was probably better for both.
It’s hard to speculate what that means, exactly, but it’s likely that partnering wasn’t the best look for either party, as both faced criticism regarding social equality. NASCAR rallied around its only Black driver, Bubba Wallace, when a rope in the shape of a noose was found in his garage the weekend after NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag in an effort to atone for its racist past. In the past, Portnoy has liberally used the n-word and referred to Colin Kaepernick as looking like Osama bin Laden. Those aren’t two mindsets that can be easily reconciled.
There never seemed to be a ton of NASCAR-Barstool activation, and Sports Business Daily notes that it was a situation where money went both ways. A handful of NASCAR drivers took part in longstanding Barstool trends, like its podcast and its pizza rating series. Clint Boywer and Portnoy teamed up for a NASCAR-themed podcast. Portnoy also attended the 2020 Daytona 500 as a VIP—but NASCAR has confirmed that its advertising and marketing budget has changed significantly since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
One argument for the Barstool activations is viewership. Barstool has a large, loyal audience, which raised the hope that NASCAR would benefit from a boost in viewership—especially in the crucial age 18-49 demographic. Unfortunately, NSACAR’s viewership has still been in decline. In 2019, the Cup Series was watched by an average of 2.92 million people compared to the previous year’s 3.3 million. We won’t know average viewership in 2020 until the end of the season, but midweek events and awkwardly-timed races haven’t contributed to a boost in viewership, even when NASCAR was the only sport to return after the onset of COVID-19.
Neither party will confirm that the partnership is entirely over, so there’s a chance that NASCAR and Barstool Sports will reunite in the future.