Barstool Coach Duggs
Mike Koeshartanto

Barstool Strikes Digital Gold with Coach Duggs

We’re looking outside the soccer world to draw on an example of a fun idea that turned into digital gold. What can teams, leagues, and brands take away from this? Sometimes even the simplest ideas work well with the right personality and the right audience.

Back in March, Barstool Sports’ Dan “Big Cat” Katz began playing NCAA Football 14 and broadcasting his Dynasty Mode career to the world. In typical Barstool fashion, the attempt to fill gaps in content during a time with no sports became a viral success and has garnered the digital sports and entertainment blog platform – and Coach Duggs – a lot of attention.

Other attempts at esports

We’ve seen a number of brands, teams, and leagues look to esports and video games as a way to entertain fans during a time with no live sports. NASCAR and broadcast partner FOX turned to iRacing. USL turned to Rocket League. MLS turned to FIFA. The list goes on and on as teams looked for creative ways to engage audiences.

Each engagement created a momentary boost in attention, but lacked the staying power and success that Big Cat and Coach Duggs have found.

Coach Duggs cuts through the clutter

So, what’s different? Well, first of all, having the Barstool machine behind the endeavor affords Big Cat the ability to experiment and be creative. Pardon My Take, the podcast Big Cat co-hosts, is one of the most popular podcasts in the world. A dedicated fanbase who devote their time (and dollars) to the Barstool brand is a major boost.

The choice of NCAA Football 14 also plays into nostalgia because EA Sports no longer produces the franchise despite public demand. The game also speaks directly to a large number of Barstool’s biggest audience – college-aged kids – who, since the start of Coach Duggs’ career, have been out of school thanks to quarantine.

Colleges and universities have also bought into the fictional character helping amplify his journey from the University of Toledo to his current head coaching role at the University of Tennessee. Teams Coach Duggs has coached (like Texas Tech), teams that have played against Coach Duggs (like Maryland), and bowl games Coach Duggs has appeared in (like the Cotton Bowl) have gotten in on the action on social media helping raise the fictional coach’s profile.

Members of the college football media, including Stadium’s Brett McMurphy, have also joined in on the fun.

Viewership grows, brands begin showing interest

This momentum has netted Coach Duggs and Barstool some interesting results. By our count at the time of writing this, there have been 47 NCAA Football 14 streams on the Pardon My Take Twitch channel since April 9th. Across these streams there have been 1.53M viewers, averaging roughly 32,000 per broadcast. Viewership peaked on June 8th when Big Cat, Coach Duggs, and the Vols played Virginia Tech in the title game. Despite defeat, nearly 127,000 people tuned in for the Twitch stream.

If you look at the graph below, viewership is on an upward trajectory as word about Coach Duggs continues to spread and the Barstool machine cranks out more and more content. As if more evidence was needed to illustrate success, Coach Duggs himself – a fictional coach created two months ago – has over 50,000 followers on Twitter.

Barstool Coach Duggs Twitch Viewers





Barstool is also capitalizing on Coach Duggs’ success with topical merchandise – something the media and blogging platform does extremely well. Barstool has a variety of t-shirts available for the Coach Duggs enthusiasts of the world.

As viewership and attention continue to grow, brands have started attaching themselves to the fictional character. Cuts Clothing and Death Wish Coffee, both previous Barstool sponsors, have offered discount codes at varying points throughout Duggs’ journey.

What can soccer teams, leagues, brands learn from this experience?

It’s a great question and there may not be an simple answer. Perhaps the single most important reason why the Coach Duggs experiment has been successful is because of Barstool itself. There’s a very long history of Barstool fans supporting their endeavors and a similar level of grassroots fandom, on a national scale, is a key ingredient the soccer industry is likely missing.

However, who would have thought a half-decade-old video game and a fictional coach could garner this much attention? It goes to show that sometimes simple ideas can capture the attention of the right audience with the right personality and situation.

If any MLS players out there are looking to recreate some of the Coach Duggs magic, I’ve got the perfect nostalgic video game for you… ESPN MLS GameNight!



Categories: Just For Fun