By Terri Jo Neff
At a time when state officials are pushing ways to improve Arizona’s tourism industry, the Pima County Board of Supervisors reneged on its nearly $40,000 commitment to the Arizona Bowl.
The Arizona Bowl is a NCAA-certified postseason college football game held since 2015 at the University of Arizona’s Arizona Stadium. It is presented with a title sponsor, which for the first five years was NOVA Home Loans. Then in 2020 the game was played as the Offerpad Arizona Bowl.
This year, the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl is slated to be played on Dec. 31, and the event is expected to bring thousands of football fans to southern Arizona. It is a boost to local tourism that is sorely needed, supporters say.
But on Tuesday the Pima County BOS took a swipe at the new title sponsor and brought what tourism officials say was undue negative attention to the event.
In a 4 to 1 vote, the BOS went back on its commitment of $38,155 toward the game, citing “ethical concerns” with controversial comments and activities associated with Barstool Sports and its founder, David Portnoy. The vote came despite the fact many of the concerning comments date back nearly a decade and that the company in recent years has established a respected reputation.
Barstool Sports is seen by many as an American business success story – the digital media company produces original content focused on sports and pop-culture. Its 280 employees are also involved in producing an amateur boxing league, a radio show distributed by Westwood One, and a number of podcasts.
And then there is the Barstool Fund, which garnered national attention last year when Portnoy led an effort which raised more than $40 million from several sports figures to provide financial support for small businesses hard hit by the pandemic. Some of the recipients were Arizonans.
In July, Portnoy announced Barstool Sports as the new title sponsor of the Arizona Bowl and kicked off an aggressive marketing campaign that will feature the Tucson area as much as the game itself.
But despite the company’s various successes, four Pima County supervisors turned their backs on the fact that the 17-member executive board of the Arizona Bowl vetted the new title sponsor. Among those on the executive board are Brent Deraad of Visit Tucson, Ted Maxwell of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, and Joe Snell of Sun Corridor.
Critics of the BOS vote call it “misguided” and point to the fact many of the criticisms deal with comments and activities involving Portnoy and other company personalities from more than a decade ago.
The BOS also turned its back on comments from Kym Adair, who is serving as executive director of the bowl game.
Adair did not make excuses for prior inappropriate comments some found offensive, admitting there were jokes “that have missed, comedies and content that didn’t land or stand the test of time.” She did, however, emphasize the company’s various successes, which include being the only sports media company with a female CEO.
Barstool Sports also has a recent connection to Arizona, Adair told the board in a written statement. Earlier this year the NCAA abruptly cancelled a major women’s golf regional event in Louisiana, leaving a dozen teams without an opportunity to try for the Championship.
A Barstool Sports official got the company involved with the NCAA and several teams across the country ended up at the “Let Them Play” tournament in Chandler in May.