Cornhole Goes Pro, National Tournament Broadcast by ESPN

Cornhole League

The American Cornhole League (ACL) is currently holding (March 15-18) their 2nd national tournament of the year in Las Vegas, with live action appearing on ESPN3 (DIS). JohnWallStreet recently spoke to the league’s founder Stacey Moore, to discuss how cornhole became a pro sport, how the ACL generates revenue and how much the league’s top players can win annually.

JWS: How did you manage to turn a tailgate game into a sport broadcast by ESPN?

Stacey: I looked at the game and the primary thing missing was that nobody was doing scores and stats, there wasn’t any technology out there to bring it all together. So, I invested heavily in our software. In addition to having scores and stats, I felt like you had to broadcast it like a legitimate sport and I was fortunate that ESPN decided to give it a shot. We did our first broadcast on ESPN3 back in July 2016 and then just about a month before our main event in 2017, they called and asked if I would be interested in being on ESPN2. So, we went live on ESPN2 last July.

JWS: Many niche sports are moving towards an OTT distribution model. Why did you choose to partner with a traditional cable broadcast provider?

Stacey: I still feel like TV gives you the massive audience needed to make a big impact. While everyone knows cornhole as a game, they hadn’t really viewed it as a sport (making it unlikely they would pay for an OTT service). I didn’t think we would be successful going with a pure subscription model, targeting just the core competitive cornhole community; one that is extremely small relative to the number of people who have picked up a bag.

JWS: How does American Cornhole League generate revenue?

Stacey: We’re fortunate that we have multiple revenue streams. We collect a membership fee from both our players and directors. We have fees for each tournament, every time a player plays in one of our tournaments and uses our software we generate revenue. We also have equipment deal partnerships ( and sponsorships (Johnsonville is the title sponsor) is a big piece as well.  

Howie Long-Short: The American Cornhole League (ACL) has a guaranteed prize pool for national ESPN events of $100,000 and will give out more than $250,000 in prize money this season. The top player in the league made $30,000 last season.

Fan Marino: Considering my limited athletic ability, life-long aspiration to be a professional athlete and affinity for drinking beer in a parking lot, professional cornhole makes for an intriguing career opportunity; but, this isn’t a light-hearted “beer league”. The ACL is serious competition, filled with “retired athletes, guys that played high school or college sports competitively.”

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ESPN Gains Leverage for Future NFL Rights Negotiations

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ESPN (DIS) President Jimmy Pitaro values the cable network’s relationship with the NFL, having made it a priority to meet with league execs within his first few days on the job; but, unlike John Skipper, who was bound by provisions within cable and satellite carriage agreements to carry NFL games (or have their rate cut), Pitaro is free to operate in the best interest of the network. Between 2010-2015, ESPN worked to remove a provision from its affiliate deals, giving the network the leverage it desperately lacked during the last round of negotiations (when it agreed to pay $1.9 billion/season for the league’s least valuable rights package). While Pitaro views the network’s relationship with the league as a “top priority”, recent announcements by the NFL to re-assign ESPN’s playoff game to Fox (FOXA) and to give FOXA the rights to carry a competing NFL draft show, have placed the relationship in jeopardy beyond the ’21 season.

Howie Long-Short: ESPN will have more leverage with the league in the next round of negotiations, but there is also going to have more competition (at least if it seeks streaming rights) with Facebook, Amazon, YouTube etc. all looking to acquire live sports content. The good news for ESPN is that the NFL is going to seek “duel revenue streams” in the next round of broadcast negotiations, awarding television rights to the linear players and streaming rights to FAANG. The league is still a firm believer in traditional broadcast television, meaning ESPN/ABC will only need to outbid CBS, FOX, NBC to retain NFL rights.

Fan Marino: The NFL’s legal tampering period began on Monday and several high-profile unrestricted free-agents having already committed to signing contacts with new teams. Kirk Cousins (Vikings: 3 Years, $84 million), Allen Robinson (Bears: 3 Years, $42 million) and Malcolm Butler (Titans: 5 Years, $60 million) were among the those to sign lucrative deals with new franchises. Andrew Norwell (Jaguars: 5 Years, $66.5 million), Sammy Watkins (Chiefs: 3 Years, $48 million) and Case Keenum (Broncos: 3 Years, $36 million) are also all now off the board. NFL free agents can finalize contracts at 4p EST today, the official start of the 2018 league year.

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Amazon Interested in Premier League “Super Pack”


Amazon is reportedly interested in acquiring a “super pack” of English Premier League (EPL) broadcast rights; a package that would give them 40 live matches/season, near live rights to all 380 games/season and the ability to show highlights. The rights would span 3 seasons (’18-’19 through ’21-’22) and in theory, help the e-commerce juggernaut bring new subscribers to their Prime service. The EPL, looking to offset the loss of value (-14% from last round of negotiations) from the first 5 packages that were awarded, has additional incentive to work out a deal with AMZN; the organization is considering launching its own OTT service and wants to use the next 3 seasons to gauge the potential for streaming success.

Howie Long-Short: Of the 5 rights packages awarded thus far, Sky Sports (subsidiary of Sky PLC, SKYAY) won 4 of them; for $1.655 billion/season. On Tuesday, Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) made a $31 billion offer for the European pay TV provider, driving SKYAY share prices up 21% (to $74.58). While that’s good news for SKYAY shareholders, the offer likely has DIS execs fretting. SKYAY was the “crown jewel” of DIS’ $52.4 billion offer for FOXA assets. DIS now must decide if it will proceed with the FOXA deal without SKYAY or look to outbid CMCSA for an asset it desires.

Fan Marino: The term “near live rights” refers to a networks ability to re-broadcast games shortly after their conclusion. That must be a European phenomenon. I find second screen devices (and platforms like Twitter) critical to the sports viewing experience. If the game isn’t live, you’re eliminating the use of those devices for the purposes of social interaction, game updates etc. Of course, you also must manage to avoid the score of the game while it’s being played; good luck with that!

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Rays RSN Extension Reportedly Worth More Than $1.3 Billion


The Tampa Bay Rays are reportedly closing in on a local television contract extension with Fox Sports Net, worth an average of $82 million/year, through ’33 season; more than 4x the annual average of their expiring contract ($20 million). Despite poor attendance figures, Florida’s A.L. baseball team has historically drawn solid T.V. ratings. The club finished the ’17 season ranked 18th among league teams, after finishing 13th the year before; making the team’s games the most-watched cable programming on prime-time television within the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg market, during both seasons. Under the terms of the expiring deal, Fox will pay $35 million for rights to broadcast games during the 2018 season.

Howie Long-Short: Assuming the deal is completed, the Royals (existing deal expires in ’19) and Marlins (existing deal expires in ’20) would be among the teams to benefit next from baseball’s booming local TV market. Project Wolverine (Marlins) projected T.V. revenues would exceed $50 million by 2021, a figure many doubted possible considering they’ll receive just $17 million, $18 million and $20 million over the last 3 years of their existing deal; but, while that figure remains ambitious (the team is last in the league in ratings), it no longer appears out of reach. Tampa’s new deal starts at $50 million/season in 2019.

Fan Marino: The Marlins held historic fire sales after the ’97, ’05 and ‘12 seasons, but according to the metric WAR (wins above replacement) no team has ever “traded more WAR from the proceeding season” than the 2018 Marlins. The team traded last season’s NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton (Yankees), Marcell Ozuna (Cardinals), Christian Yelich (Brewers) and Dee Gordon (Mariners).

Assuming the FCC approves the $52.4 billion sale of FOXA assets to Disney (DIS), expect Rays games to appear on ESPN’s new $4.99/mo. OTT service ESPN+ (launches late March, early April) no later than Opening Day 2020.

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NCAA Pay-To-Play Scandal Explodes, 20 Programs Named, Alleged Payments Up to $100K

Ayton Check

Pat Forde & Pete Thamel (Yahoo! Sports, AABA) have published several damning articles implicating at least 20 players and over 2 dozen Colleges and Universities in the NCAA’s corruption case. Citing “hundreds of pages of documents” recovered from the FBI’s investigation, emails between runner Christian Dawkins and agent Andy Miller (ASM Sports) and a spreadsheet (detailing expenditures) maintained by Dawkins as evidence, the stories paint a picture of an amateur system that is failing. Nearly every top program (UNC, Duke, MSU) is referenced, with payments ranging from $70 lunches (Miles Bridges, MSU) to $73,500 in loans (Dennis Smith Jr., NC State). It is important to distinguish between the FBI investigation (bribery, travel act conspiracy etc.) that has resulted in the arrest of 4 coaches and the one the NCAA will conduct (upon completion of the FBI investigation) related to impermissible benefits (players, teams in Forde/Thamel stories).

Howie Long-Short: Pay-to-play scandals have been going on since at least the early 80’s (great 30 for 30 called Pony Excess, here’s the trailer), so this isn’t a new phenomenon; what’s new this time around, is the FBI’s involvement. Landmark changes are coming to college athletics, but until the NBA allows H.S. prospects to enter the draft again, a black market will continue to exist. As the #1 pick in the 2017 draft, Markelle Fultz will earn $15.36 million over the first 2 years of his contract. There’s simply no way he can be compensated fairly (relative to the value he brings to the University) playing a year of college basketball. If he took $10,000 from ASM Sports under the current system (as alleged), a nominal stipend isn’t preventing him from taking it in the future.

Fan Marino: Late Friday evening, ESPN (DIS) reported that the FBI had intercepted a call between Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller and Dawkins relating to a $100,000 payment, meant to ensure 5-star prospect Deandre Ayton enrolled at the school. Dick Vitale wasted no time calling for Miller’s immediate dismissal, despite Mark Schlabach (wrote story) never personally hearing the audio recording (or having read the transcript) or applying any logical thought to the report before speaking; Ayton committed to AZ in Sept. ’16, the alleged FBI call was said to have been recorded in June 2017. Miller may be guilty, but a conversation (that may or may not have happened) about a potential payment and having evidence money changed hands, are two different things. Calling for someone’s job based on hearsay is irresponsible at best, malicious at worst and Vitale’s look-at-me schtick has been tired since the late 90s. It’s time for ESPN to retire him.

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Hulu May Be Growing Too Fast for Success


For 3 straight nights (Friday 2.16 – Sunday 2.18), Hulu experienced widespread log-in issues that prevented subscribers from viewing NBA All-Star Weekend and the 2018 Winter Games. The glitch on Sunday night occurred around 9p EST, the scheduled tip-off time for the All-Star Game (on TNT) and during NBC’s prime time Olympics coverage. It hasn’t been a strong month for the live streaming service; technical issues during the Super Bowl, including blank screens during the last 2 minutes, forced Hulu to offer one-month credits to those affected. No other live streaming service (i.e. DIRECTV Now, Sling TV or PlayStation Vue) reported issues during Sunday evening’s events.

Howie Long-Short: Research by the Boston Consulting Group indicates a striking correlation between revenue growth and company mortality (read about Compaq); in other words, the faster a company grows, the shorter its expected lifespan. Moderate growth is proven to be lower risk; Hulu is growing quickly (here’s a story headlined, “Does Hulu’s Rapid Growth Spell Trouble for Netflix and Amazon?”). While subscribers are up 41.6% (to 17 million) over the last 18 months, the company is now spending over $1 billion/year on advertising and lost $920 million in 2017 (up from $531 million in ’16). Losses are expected to increase 80% to $1.7 billion in ’18. CMCSA, FOXA, DIS & TWX will be investing another $1.5 billion into the company this year. Shareholders should be concerned about the cost of customer churn; companies that fail to deliver when most desired, don’t stay in business long.

Fan Marino: While on the topic of live streaming services, YouTube TV (GOOGL) announced it would be adding TNT, CNN, TBS, MLB Network and NBA TV to its service; while subsequently increasing the cost of the offering from $35 to $40 (note: Hulu’s 50 channel package is also $40). The average cost of a broadband plan in the United States is $66.17; tack on $40 for YouTube TV and you’re now paying over $100/mo. What exactly is “skinny” about that?

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SMI Reports NFL Regular Season In-Game Ad Revenue Declines for 1st Time Since 2014

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For the first time since the Standard Media Index (SMI) began tracking in-game NFL advertising revenue, the total dollars declined YOY (-1.2% to $2.42 billion). While the cost of spots rose 1.2% to $505,000, as the demand remains high (particularly in the upfront marketplace); the marginal per spot increase was more than off-set by a rise in “make-goods” as viewership declined 9.7%. The data includes all ads shown on ESPN, CBS, NBC & FOX NFL broadcasts between September 7th and December 31st (the NFL’s 2017 regular season).

Howie Long-Short: The reduced spend by automotive (-5.4% YOY) & consumer electronics companies (-3%) had the greatest impact on the total revenue generated, as those two categories represent the NFL’s biggest spenders. Several categories that generate a smaller percentage of the league’s advertising revenue increased their ’17 spend, including; insurance (+30%), alcoholic beverages (+16%) and fast-food restaurants. For reference purposes, total NFL in-game ad revenue was up 9.6% (to $2.38 billion) in ’15 and 3% ($2.45 billion) in ’16.

Fan Marino: Despite the declining viewership, the NFL remains TV’s biggest draw; 37 of the Top 50 most watched broadcasts of 2017 were NFL games, up from 28 in 2016 (Olympic year) and matching the league’s total from 2015. 9 of the Top 12 were NFL games and Super Bowl LI was the most watched program. 11 other playoff games made the list, as did 6 Sunday Night Football games, the season opener on NBC and 18 CBS and Fox Sunday afternoon windows.

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