Cover Story

Barstool Sports Expands Its Boorish Brand With a New Scottsdale Bar

The newest bar from Barstool Sports is now open in Old Town Scottsdale.
The newest bar from Barstool Sports is now open in Old Town Scottsdale. Natasha Yee
Bars in Old Town Scottsdale often are known for their Las Vegas-style debauchery. But Barstool Scottsdale is decidedly different.

The nightspot, from the namesake digital media company based in New York City, opened on November 18. It's a notable move for a brand best known for its sports and pop culture website that often finds itself in the middle of controversy. But Barstool has expanded its footprint in Arizona, from a college football title sponsorship in Tucson, to an online sportsbook with NASCAR at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale and talks of a future retail location.

This is the third sports bar for Barstool, which opened a Chicago location in January 2022 and a Philadelphia bar two months later. In Scottsdale, Barstool inhabits an 8,700-square-foot space with a 1,700-square-foot patio facing Scottsdale Road. The new bar announced its opening on Twitter.

"Join Barstool Sports and special guests to celebrate opening weekend," the November 9 tweet reads. The social media post includes a photo mashup of guests Paul Bissonnette, a former NHL player for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Arizona Coyotes, and comedian Grace O'Malley.

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A sign at the new Barstool Sports Scottsdale bar.
Natasha Yee

On a recent Wednesday in January, the bar was moderately busy. A smattering of bros donning forward and backward-facing baseball caps occupied one booth. Another table was inhabited by men wearing flannel button-downs and denim.

Black stools surrounded a square marble bar, and the many TVs displayed all manner of sports, including basketball, hockey, and golf. Female servers milled about in black leggings and crop tops imprinted with the Barstool logo.

The food isn't bad, though it takes a while to arrive and the carne asada that's supposed to top the nachos is actually just ground beef. But Barstool isn't the type of place where you go to eat a gourmet meal. It's more the party-your-face-off kind of spot reserved for the weekend.

A black flip board displays philosophical musings such as "Never skip the foreplay" and "Odds are you need another drink." The declarations hint at the culture of the brand, which has become known for much more than sports.

Barstool's Beginnings

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Dave Portnoy.
Mark Brown / Getty Images

In 2003, Dave Portnoy founded Barstool Sports as a small Boston newspaper that he doled out on the subway, according to New York Magazine. His parents gave him $25,000 to fund the venture. Since then, the paper has grown into a massively popular media company with podcasts, YouTube shows, live streams, and social media accounts.

But Barstool also has garnered a reputation outside of sports. Portnoy is known for making rape jokes, according to Huffington Post; harassing female journalists, according to USA Today Sports; and using racial slurs in videos posted to Barstool Sports.

Drama continued for the Barstool founder when a sex tape involving him went public in April 2021. After the footage surfaced, PENN Entertainment's stock price took a dip, according to the New York Post. The gambling company, formerly known as Penn National Gaming, paid $163 million for a 36 percent stake in Barstool in January 2020 and plans to own the entire business by February 2023.

Portnoy, whose loyal followers refer to him as "El Presidente," was not thrilled with the drop in PENN's stock price.

"Wait $penn is dropping cause I have a sex tape?" he posted on Twitter, accompanied by a video of his profanity-laced rant. "Emergency press conference," it begins. "Hey, news flash, this is the third fucking one. I used to sling it, I've gotten better. What are you going to fucking do? It's the internet. So I have sex, people fucking know that. You've gotta spice it up, you can't be boring."

He told his 2.7 million Twitter followers to seize the opportunity. "I would jump on this dip, and I would fuck it, no pun intended," he said in the video.

While some of his sexual encounters are consensual, such as the one in the sex tape, other instances were not, according to three different women who have accused Portnoy of sexual assault. In a November 2021 story by Insider, one woman said that Portnoy began filming without her consent as she performed oral sex on him after he flew her to his $2.2 million Nantucket residence. At the time, Portnoy was a 43-year-old multimillionaire and the woman was a 20-year-old college student. The woman texted details of the encounter to a friend, and later shared them with Insider.

"It was so rough I felt like I was being raped he video taped me and spit in my mouth and choked me so hard I couldn't breathe," one text reads, according to Insider. "And it hurt and I was literally screaming in pain." The texts have not been independently verified by Phoenix New Times.

Insider interviewed more than two dozen people for its story, including eight current or former employees. Another woman in the story recalled being choked and filmed without permission during sexual encounters with the Barstool founder. The three women in the story who said they had sex with Portnoy described the experiences as "frightening and humiliating." All three went by pseudonyms for the story.

"I know how he is when someone goes after him," one of the women said. She declined to divulge specific details of her experience in fear of the repercussions. "I thought he would say something in public, or share videos of me."

Following the November 2021 story, more women came forward with similar stories. Insider published a follow-up article in February 2022.

"Since then, three more young women have told Insider that Portnoy filmed them during sex without asking for permission. They ranged in age from 18 to mid-20s at the time," Insider reported. One of the women interviewed said that Portnoy broke one of her ribs.

Portnoy sued Insider for defamation after its follow-up story was published, according to The Washington Post. A judge dismissed the defamation suit in November.

Barstool's troubled reputation, like Portnoy's, has preceded it all along. In 2017, the brand lost a partnership with ESPN just 10 days after it was inked. That happened when journalist Samantha Ponder, the network's "Sunday NFL Countdown" host, tweeted screenshots of Barstool Sports blog posts from years earlier that contained derogatory comments about her, according to The New York Times.

"The woman who was hired to stand on the sidelines, because she's attractive, and report a stone's throw away from girls who were hired to dance in their underwear, because they're attractive, is against blogs saying women are attractive ... Seriously you sound like a KO Barstool freak, not a chick that has a job where the #1 requirement is you make men hard," Barstool blogger John Feitelberg wrote about Ponder in a 2014 post.

KO Barstool is a Twitter account that wants to "knock out Barstool," according to its bio. It appears to have been inactive since 2012. The comments about Ponder echo the misogynistic culture that constantly lands Barstool Sports in hot water.

Barstool and its CEO Erika Nardini did not respond to multiple requests for comment from New Times.

Copper State Connections

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The new Barstool Sports location is now open in Old Town Scottsdale
Natasha Yee

Prior to Barstool's venture into Old Town Scottsdale, the company's drama hit close to home.

In August 2021, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to revoke nearly $40,000 in funding from the Arizona Bowl when Barstool became its title sponsor, according to 12 News. The county has financially supported the football game, which attracts about 30,000 fans to downtown Tucson in late December, since the game was established in 2015.

"I feel that the current sponsor does not represent who we are as a region or as a community," Supervisor Sharon Bronson said in the meeting. "I don't see how we, in good conscience, can give financial support to an organization with a documented history of offensive and inappropriate statements."

Central Michigan University was slated to face Boise State University in the December 31, 2021, game. In an early December meeting, CMU's Academic Senate aired concerns about Barstool and Portnoy.

"I'm just really worried that this alignment might send a mixed message to prospective students," Deborah Gray, a marketing professor and Academic Senate member, said during the meeting, according to Central Michigan Life. "Particularly, given our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, supporting victims of sexual assault and to protect our community from the harm that the n-word brings."

Other critics of Barstool had similar sentiments. Northern Illinois University's student newspaper, Northern Star, asked that Portnoy be removed from bowl game festivities in a November 2021 editorial.

"He's on his last leg," an accompanying illustration depicting Portnoy falling from a broken stool reads. "Boycott Barstool and the Arizona Bowl!"

Steve Kozachik, a Tucson City Council member, was not thrilled with the partnership, either.

"Yeah, I had issues. The owner is a jerk, and he's been widely quoted as being racially motivated, sexist, and all that," Kozachik said in a phone interview with New Times. "Their whole presence here points out the really gross hypocrisy that intercollegiate sports is living in now."

"It's all about money," he added.

Kozachik said the Barstool partnership was inappropriate on the heels of the #MeToo movement, which is an effort to hold accountable people involved in sexual misconduct. Portnoy, the council member added, only capitalizes on his "frat boy image."

Kozachik was part of the University of Arizona's athletic department for 32 years, starting as an event coordinator in 1988 to his elevation to associate director of facilities before departing in 2021.

He said he voiced his concerns to Kym Adair, the executive director of the Arizona Bowl, when he found out about the Barstool partnership, Kozachik said. But Adair defended Barstool.

"She feels that the company embraces women in leadership roles, and she was proud to be a part of the bowl," Kozachik said. "She said she had a daughter and that she wouldn't have a problem with her daughter working for the company, too."

'Dave Has Said Some Silly Things'

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Tight end Jackson Marcotte of the Wyoming Cowboys reacts to a field goal in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl which was played December 30, 2022, in Tucson. The Ohio Bobcats beat Wyoming 30-27.
Chris Coduto / Getty Images

Barstool first caught Adair's eye in spring 2021, when the Arizona Bowl was searching for a new title sponsor, she said in a phone interview with New Times. The NCAA had canceled a women's golf regional in May 2021 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, due to poor conditions on the course. Barstool Sports decided to host the tournament in Chandler instead.

Adair discussed the tournament with Arizona Bowl consultants.

"We were on this call, and I said, 'Oh my God, did you see what Barstool just did for these female athletes?' That is something that they didn't have to do, and it was a really great thing for a company to do when so many people don't pay attention to what's going on in women's sports," she recalled.

The Arizona Bowl reached out to Barstool to express interest in a partnership. Though Adair had caught wind of the negative press surrounding the company, she didn't let it deter her after some preliminary talks, she said.

"Dave has said some silly things and even to the point of some offensive things in the past, but that's not who the company is now. Those comments wouldn't be made today, and they've learned from that," Adair said. "They really saw themselves as a comedy sports website, so sometimes they would say things that didn't land properly or didn't stand the test of time. And those things wouldn't necessarily be repeated again in 2022."

Adair also defended Portnoy against the sexual assault allegations.

"Dave would tell you and has said publicly that those allegations are false, and he's tried to sue the publications that made them. There's never been a criminal complaint against Dave or any type of criminal justice with those allegations. Those are things that have been said and speculated, not things that necessarily have been proved in a court of law," she said.

Adair also talked about the contributions Barstool has pledged to make locally, including donating $1 million to Arizona small businesses affected by the pandemic.

In addition to its title sponsorship, Barstool also retained exclusive international broadcast rights for the Arizona Bowl, which CBS Sports had aired for the last several years, according to Sportico.

The 2021 Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl was ultimately canceled due to COVID-19, but the company tweeted that it looked forward to "providing a world class bowl experience in 2022."

On December 30, 2022, Ohio University played the University of Wyoming in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl. Three announcers, including Portnoy, called the game to "mixed reviews," according to Cowboy State Daily, a nonprofit news organization in Wyoming.

"That wasn't a group of frat brothers already half a keg into a tailgate party in the broadcast booth of Friday's Arizona Bowl," the story read. "It was Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool Sports, and his team presenting this year's season-capping college football game between the University of Wyoming Cowboys and Ohio University Bobcats."

The Barstool Arizona Instagram account, which is focused on the University of Arizona, has more than 66,000 followers, while Tempe Barstool, featuring footage from Arizona State University, boasts 122,000 followers. The content for both is consistent with Barstool's reputation.

In a September 2022 photo from the Tempe Barstool account, a student holds a sign at an ASU football game that reads, "#7 I slept with your mom." An October 2022 video posted on the Barstool Arizona account shows a seemingly intoxicated young woman in a nurse costume struggling to get off the floor. "Oh my god," one onlooker comments. "Are you alright?" another asks. The post is captioned "I'm dressed as a nurse it's fine I got this. DM us your best Halloween costume submissions to be featured."

Betting on Barstool

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A large collection of screens show a variety of sports at Barstool in Scottsdale.
Natasha Yee

Beside Barstool's bowl game, its Scottsdale sports bar, and vast social media presence, the company also has a stake in Arizona sports betting.

Barstool Sportsbook AZ went live on September 9, 2021, coinciding with the legalization of sports betting in the state. The Arizona sportsbook operates under PENN Entertainment as the exclusive gambling partner at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, according to NASCAR.

PENN is the largest regional gaming operator in the U.S., with 44 properties spread across 20 states. Through Barstool, it operates online in 13 of those states, including Arizona, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Louisiana, and West Virginia.

A January 2021 Bonus story wrote that Barstool Sportsbook "may be the most profitable sportsbook in the industry."

And there is plenty of profit to be made in Arizona. During the state's first year of sports betting, gamblers wagered more than $5 billion according to the Arizona Department of Gaming. The state became the first to surpass $1 billion in handle, or total number of dollars wagered. It happened in just 82 days.

"Phoenix has quietly become a national hub for sports gambling thanks to robust fan culture, unique demographics, smart legislation, and a dash of good luck," New Times reported in September.

It's that fan culture and unique demographic that the new Scottsdale bar hopes to tap into. Its Instagram account already includes posts of rowdy sports fans, a myriad of alcohol, and bottle girls in sultry attire — staples of any flashy Old Town nightclub. But for the scandal-prone company, the bar marks one more step in Barstool's expansion throughout Arizona.

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Natasha Yee is a dining reporter who loves to explore the Valley’s culinary gems. She has covered cannabis for the New Times, politics for Rolling Stone, and health and border issues for Cronkite News in conjunction with Arizona PBS, where she was one of the voices of the podcast CN2Go.
Contact: Natasha Yee

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