Erika Nardini, CEO of Barstool Sports, has followed a path of nonconformity that has resulted in success
Erika Nardini isn’t your run-of-the-mill CEO. For starters, she’s a hockey player who swears and manages to find time to host her own show.
She exudes a swagger, a nonchalant bravado, and a confidence that makes you stand up straight, smile, and lean in all at once. Because she’s The Boss, you straighten up.
You smile because she exudes genuine vigour and enthusiasm. And you lean in because you can see she’s saying something worth hearing.
Erika Nardini, the CEO of Barstool Sports, is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the business world.
She is the visionary who has built a multi-faceted firm with its hands in content, drink, gambling, and much more from a tiny group of misfit bloggers.
Her unprecedented success as a woman in athletics and business is the result of a mix of hard work, trusting her intuition over conformity, and allowing herself and those around her to be their true selves.
Nardini explains, “My parents instilled in me a very strong work ethic.” “They were instructors and professors in education, so we didn’t have much.
They made it clear to me that I would have to work hard for anything I want.
If I liked certain brands and styles of clothing, or if I needed new clothes for school, I had to bus tables at a restaurant.
It may sound difficult, but I’ve always felt most at ease at work. I instantly deduced that there was a link between the two.
I could make money if I worked hard enough. I could do whatever I wanted if I had enough money. And I liked it then, and I still enjoy it now.”
Her aptitude to make money and her hard work have landed her jobs in the restaurant, finance, advertising, music, technology, and sports industries.
Her hard effort pays off at each location, allowing her to learn new concepts and valuable information that she may apply to her next endeavour.
Her early success was due to her ability to recognise and follow the haphazard relationship between an activity and money.
In reality, Nardini’s first employment was with Fidelity Investments as a Media Manager.
She was in charge of all broadcast, print, and interactive media planning and buying as a Media Manager.
She established, oversaw, and launched their first digital planning practise at a period when the internet was still a novelty.
Nardini didn’t take long to understand that the internet and the manner it allowed users to communicate with their clients had something unique to offer.
She also saw early on that the internet could be profitable.
“It was in the late 1990s. The internet was subterranean, wild, and nebulous, while print was very glamorous.
Nobody wanted to work on the internet, but they handed me a large sum of money to figure it out.
What I noticed was that the internet gave a venue where you could make something, have someone react to it, and quantify the audience’s reaction.
The practically instantaneous feedback was amazing. I was able to see the cause and impact of our purchase.
I knew the internet would be a medium where you could create whatever discourse, product, or positioning you chose, limited only by your creativity and vision. That was fantastic.”
Her ability to immediately grasp the internet’s possibilities moved her forward in her career.
As she learned that the buyer and the creative have the power in print, digital, and television, she moved to the creative side of an ad agency, where she could design what people would react to—to be the producer.
And she did create. By the early 2000s, Nardini had risen through the ranks of Arnold Worldwide to Vice President and Group Account Director, overseeing a team of seventeen people responsible for all digital and media management for major brands such as Royal Caribbean, Volkswagen, Choice Hotels, Tyson Foods, Vonage, and Goodyear.
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Nardini went from a fresh-faced college grad cutting her teeth in the unproven, embryonic internet to a bona fide leader designing brand strategy for huge corporations in a relatively short period of time.
She charted her initial success with no specialist training, having graduated from Colby College with a degree in Sociology.
There was no internet business school or digital marketing courses.
She did not complete a postgraduate programme. So she had to base her job on the same hard work she put in as a teenager, her creative instincts, and her people skills.
While that recipe has helped her succeed, Nardini will be the first to admit that her success hasn’t come without setbacks and unforeseen changes.
“I had a lot of failures. Not all of my attempts were successful. After working for large corporations, I decided to try my hand at startups. They were doomed to fail.
I’d return to a large corporation. I’ve never had a job that was overly prescriptive, linear, or particularly rational.
When I went in for an interview for the CMO post at AOL [which she subsequently got], they said, “Jesus, you’re all over the place.”
‘Yeah, I was all over the place,’ I answered. Why do you think that is? Because I was able to see how everything worked together.’ I’d learn one thing, then examine how it interacted with another before moving on to the next task. I was able to take what I learned in one environment, expand it, and apply it to the next.”
Her technique of madness—trusting her instincts and piecing the puzzle together—has shown to be effective, and she has developed great commercial acumen in the digital era.
In addition to AOL, her ability to understand and create digital businesses gained her C-suite jobs at Microsoft, Yahoo, Bkstg, and Demand Media.
When you consider how Nardini, a bit of a renegade, has practically established a career on the internet, it’s no wonder that she was chosen as Barstool’s first CEO.
Her career and mindset appear to be in sync with President Dave Portnoy’s irreverent brand.
Nardini has taken Barstool Sports through a lot of growth in her five years there, but she refuses to put the company in a box.
With 240 men and women on staff, what was once simply a loose collection of sports blogs with a 12 man team has become one of the fastest growing lifestyle companies on the internet.
She has overseen the company’s income generation across a variety of business areas, including goods, advertising, licencing, and experiential.
Barstool is an internet force to be admired thanks to Nardini. Nardini’s refusal to be boxed in and a deep knowledge of the people Barstool creates for—the fans—are at the heart of all of this progress.
“I think what I brought to Barstool was a willingness to do everything, a drive to learn, a desire to be very hands-on, a love for fans and artists, and a desire to build businesses around them in a way that supported them both and made them feel valued and important.”
Barstool’s founders and fans have had a lot of success under her leadership.
Barstool has risen to become one of the top five podcasting publishers in the United States (according to Podtrac).
It has the world’s number one sports podcast, number one hockey podcast, number one golf podcast, and number one female podcast.
It is now the fastest growing sports brand across all social platforms, the third most engaged sports publisher on social (according to Shareablee Dec 2020), the sixth most viewed sports creator across Facebook and Youtube (according to Tubular Oct 2020), and the top digital sports media creator (according to Tubular Oct 2020). (according to Tubular 2020).
However, Barstool is more than simply podcasts and sports. Barstool’s successful expansions into the booze, gambling, and now beverage businesses have all been managed by Nardini.
Its 2019 cooperation with Spittin’ Chiclets and New Amsterdam vodka resulted in the Pink Whitney, the best-selling flavoured vodka in North America and Canada.
Its partnership with Penn National Gambling to launch Barstool Sportsbook and Casino in January 2020 has grown into one of the leading interactive gaming platforms in Pennsylvania and Michigan, where it was the only big operator to achieve $1.6 million in positive net revenue.
Revitalyte Black Label by Barstool Sports was added to Revitalyte’s popular array of electrolyte recovery beverages last month, and it’s guaranteed to be a hit.
Barstool is unlike any other firm because of Nardini’s devotion to not allowing it to be just one thing, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m always interested in what ESPN and NBC are up to. What’s going on over there? I’m always curious.
What’s going on is that those businesses are operating in a box. In a box, decisions are made.
The management is carried out in a box. The item is packaged in a box.
The agreements, the rights, they’re all in boxes. That feels very confining to me. I, like Barstool, cannot be contained in a box.
I love that I can come to work and talk about who the next Robinhood is and the potential of Barstool Sports while also thinking about TikTok, how we’re celebrities on it, and what sort of merchant companies I could start on TikTok.
We are a nonconformist bunch. And I believe that is a key factor in our success.”
Nardini prefers the term nonconformism to diversity and inclusion, which are clearly hot-button issues in today’s culture.
She isn’t afraid of diversity and inclusiveness since she believes in them. In fact, Deirdre Lester, Chief Revenue Officer, and Jen Simons, EVP, Head of Production, Programming, and Development, make up Barstool’s whole executive team.
She avoids using the term diversity and inclusion because it doesn’t appear to fully encompass her objective in its current incarnation in society.