From the Backyard to the National Stage, Cornhole Is Experiencing a Meteoric Rise in Sports

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An American pastime like many that came before it, cornhole is no longer just a backyard business.

Though it’s mostly known as an activity that many tailgaters and families enjoy over the summer season, Stacey Moore, CEO of the American Cornhole League, came to the conclusion in January 2016 that cornhole could become a legitimate sport following years of research.

Becoming the fastest growing sport in North America is no small task, but Moore’s extensive background with startup companies helped him begin the journey to where the league has grown to today with thousands of participants from around the globe competing for one thing — to be the best in their sport.

“It’s been extremely valuable to take bits and pieces from each one,” Moore said. “A lot of them have been sports related and then some of the other non-sports related ones that have been involved in social media and other aspects of technology that have helped me out as well.”

Having that background has helped Moore as he has transitioned into this style of role, but he emphasized that sports business professionals are always learning in whatever they do.

“With the American Cornhole League, obviously having worked as an entrepreneur and with other entrepreneurs for quite a while now, I kind of knew what I was getting myself into and I started to bootstrap things to move things along,” Moore said.

Moore knew that while struggles come early, they could lead to success in the end at a much more desired pace of development.  

“Well, I wish you could avoid the pitfalls. I think it’s impossible to avoid some of the pitfalls, no matter what you try to do in a startup,” Moore said. “So, certainly, a lot of it is trial and error. No matter how much you think you know, you have to be nimble and flexible and you figure out when you’re doing things wrong and, and make a shift. Hopefully that process of recognizing errors is a lot faster.”

The ACL was built on the trials and errors of past tailgating tests that Moore had in place prior to even thinking this could be a real league. Through those learning curves, the one aspect that was a huge cog in that development has been sponsorship.

“It has come to fruition over time,” Moore said. “We spent a lot of time on sponsor activations with cornhole. We were doing other tailgating games as well for a couple of years and I just kept on seeing the intensity that these players had around our cornhole tournament. I was trying to figure out what makes cornhole different than some of these other tailgating games or games that we’re playing in the backyard.”

Moore knew that, while he had a vision, the players are what truly bring the action to life.

“As I talked to players that were playing it competitively and looked into it more, I saw that there were various types of tournaments all over the country where people were playing competitively for money, I started to understand that there’s some strategy to this, but no one’s really doing scores and stats around it that could make it a legitimate sport,” he said.

Once Moore had the vision of what the ACL could be on paper, he began the process of strategy and how this could be marketed to fans of the game.

“It was probably a two-year process for me to become convinced that it could be a legitimate sport and I felt like I had a good grasp on the things that needed to happen to make it a sport.”

Distribution became the clear next step, so the push for dynamic social media efforts and television rights began.  

“The technology piece was important since we knew a lot of people will look at this as a game that everyone can play in their backyard, so when they hear ‘cornhole’ they think it is a fun game to play with a beer,” Moore said. “In order to get it taken seriously as a sport, we need to display it properly on TV with a partner that would immediately give us that credibility to say this is a legitimate sport. ESPN, being the Worldwide Leader in Sports, was my primary target. I am really happy they gave us a shot.”

Once this partnership was established, it was made clear that this had some unique aspects that we have not seen in the sports world.

Success comes with continued sponsorship opportunities and for companies that are interested, they are getting something with the ACL x ESPN partnership that you cannot find anywhere else on ESPN platforms.

“One of the coolest things about our broadcast is that we have this fixed cornhole board. You always see the Johnsonville logos during the Johnsonville Cornhole Championships. That board is seen 100 percent of the time on our broadcast now. Even if a camera is doing an overhead shot or something like that, you still see the boards,” said Moore.

It took a ton of networking and discovering the right people to give him a minute to pitch his idea. ESPN was willing to give him a shot as the product continued to develop.

“We had to start out on ESPN3 and then based on what we did on ESPN3 and how our production came across and was improving, last July they decided to give us a shot on ESPN2. We improved our production even more to stay on ESPN2,” Moore said. “We kind of went viral last July on Twitter and our ratings were great, which led us to sign a three-year deal with them going into this year.”

“About six weeks ago, I was in meetings up in Bristol and they told me they were adding 19 airings of our content this year that weren’t originally planned, including six times on the flagship ESPN station. So, obviously, I think we’re on the right path and doing some good things to have that kind of expansion so quickly.”

Continuing with steady success, ESPN saw an opportunity for both sides to benefit, with the ACL joining the big Fourth of July event on Coney Island.

“Being a part of the July 4 event on Coney Island is certainly a unique event for us. That is a format that we’ve never done before and I call it our All-Star Game for the season,” Moore said. “It is the ACL Pro Invitational, where only 16 of our pro players are going to play. Normally when we do an event and it’s a national broadcast event, there are hundreds of players coming out to play over three days.”

Developing such a unique broadcast has been fun, but challenging leading into the big invitational.

“We’re going to have a different style of gameplay where we’re going to play our sudden death format,” Moore said, “We’re only going to play a fixed number of rounds with a little bit different scoring so that we are able to get all seven matches into the two hour broadcast window.”

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As the viewership has grown, Moore gave credit to how social media has played a key role in them getting to where they are today.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of athletes, celebrities, and media personalities Tweeting and posting on Instagram about us,” Moore said. “We’ve had some great support from Barstool and those edgy companies that are really active in social media.”

This may just be the summer where you take your talents from your backyard barbeque to joining the ACL and facing off against the best of the best.