Pitching Cornhole to a Higher Level

By September 9, 2014ACO News (from the ACO)

The ACO would like to thank all the great members who have helped pitch those bags to a higher level and bring cornhole to bigger and better things.

As we move into ACO Season X, the ACO would like to share some insights on past decisions and steps as we head to the future.

As many players and spectators know, the ACO has lofty goals:

1) Increase the sports awareness by getting on television
2) Host the biggest tournaments
3) Have the largest payouts

Not everyone agrees on the methods we are using to achieve these goals, but we have a plan, will adjust it accordingly, and most importantly we will never give up. We are Cornhole!

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Feature Sport on TV

When we started this business nearly 10 years ago, most people laughed and felt that cornhole would never make it on TV. We disagreed. Sure, we can’t reasonably expect to be featured weekly on primetime TV but there are a number of non-traditional sports who have found a niche and get plenty of exposure. In the past few years alone, we have had a number of players and events taped on sports channels like ESPN. Our most recent World Championship was covered on SportsCenter in much the same way other sporting events get covered. We’ve seen coverage in magazines like ESPN and have had a player honored by TOPPS with a sports card. Interest from nontraditional sports channels like MTV shows the growing popularity and potential of the game and its players.

Biggest Tournament, Biggest Payouts

The ACO wants to host tournaments with large prize payouts because the best players should be rewarded for being the best. Plus, it adds to the overall drama and pressure of matches, which is great for spectators. In fact, in the past five years, the ACO has paid out just over a quarter of a million dollars in prizes. But getting that money is very tricky, as many other tournament coordinators can testify. There are two ways to get prize money for a tournament:

1) Player funded in which the prize money is included in the entry fee cost putting the burden on the players
2) Sponsorship in which someone agrees to provide the money to be used as prize money

Over the years we have seen that the first option doesn’t consistently build participation. To make purses large, and to cover expenses, entry fees generally have to be higher. Players without a reasonable expectation of earning any money back quickly decide to stop playing.

The second option is to find businesses or sponsors who will provide the prize money. The problem with this option is that these sponsors want a return on their investment. Whether that return is in the form of food and beverage sales, eyes on their product, people spending money in their establishment or buying hotel nights in their town, there is ALWAYS an expectation of return on sponsored dollars.

So what can we offer a sponsor so that they can get a return on their money? Our biggest asset is our people. People whose passion is Cornhole and will stay in their hotels and frequent their establishments and purchase their products. The people are not just the players but also the spectators supporting their favorite player. Guaranteeing sponsors a number of players and getting them to actually show up is also quite a challenge. When you think about the prize money as a sponsor’s investment, you will understand that a $20,000 purse doesn’t make economical sense for tournaments of 100 players. Sponsors will quickly decide to spend their $20,000 on some other form of promotion.

So how do we build that system and get the number of players to tournaments to make it worthwhile for sponsors? We are doing it through our awesome group of ACO Certified Officials. Every Certified Official group that we add equals a handful of new players that will attend one or more tournament throughout the season. It’s a simple formula: Certified Official groups = players at ACO tournaments = sponsored dollars. We’ll keep adding all the tools possible to make it easier to add Certified Official groups and make the role more desirable.

Worlds IX payout

As we add Certified Official groups, we are truly getting to a point where it makes more sense for sponsors to consider us, but potential sponsors either want to see historical numbers or see potential for growth in the future. Because our numbers at our previous two World Championships (VII & VIII) remained flat at around 220, it was difficult to demonstrate the growth potential.

So, during this past season and World Championships, we had to do something to reverse the trend and make sponsors start looking our way. At the beginning of last season, we made an aggressive move aimed at showing a growth in participation at the Worlds IX in Charleston.

We decided to make it easier for players to come to the Worlds by forgoing almost all registration dollars. In support and partnership with our Certified Official group, we included 10 Golden Tickets as part of their CO Package. The intent was for them to use these 300 tickets to promote the product in their respective regions and encourage participation in the various tournaments.

Although we had yet to identify a sponsor, we needed to establish a prize purse. We established a purse of $10,000. The idea was that as participation increased, a company would be willing to sponsor the event. Although a number of organizations expressed an interest, without a history of history of high participation, no sponsor committed. In the end, revenue from tickets sales only generated $550. With the purse to cover as well as operating expenses, we had a short-fall of capital. As we recover and generate revenue through our merchandise, we will make all winners whole as quickly as possible. We are Cornhole!

The Good News

We needed the gamble to increase participation to pay off and it did. Participation at the Worlds IX was up 40% from the previous World events. Armed with those statistics, we were able to sell cornhole to our sponsors.

For the first time we had multiple cities bid to bring our ACO World Championships to them. In the past, we were happy with finding any venue that would be large enough to host us. Because of the higher interest, we were able to secure a sizable starting cash prize for the Worlds X.

We will continue to make efforts to increase the purse throughout the season, but the ACO can no longer afford to shoulder prize payouts without having it have a sizeable impact on the entry fees. Because we know that approach is not successful, we will have all future prize purses come directly from the sponsors. At the completion of payment for the World IX players, all future payments will be made quickly as they will be sourced through sponsorship.

To all the players who have supported us and came out to the Worlds, thank you. Without your participation and passion for the game, we would not have been able to accomplish this important goal and take the next crucial step in our growth. With every player who participates in an upcoming ACO event and every spectator who attends, we inch even closer. Together we will pitch the game to a higher level.

Because of your efforts, we are excited to announce that the World Singles Champion at the ACO World Championships of Cornhole X, whether it be a King or a Queen, will walk away from the Knoxville Convention Center July 11, 2015 with a $10,000 check in their hand, thanks to Visit Knoxville!

We’re getting there, together!

We are Cornhole.

GAME ON!

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