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Former Georgetown Basketball Coach John Thompson III Sees Potential in American Cornhole League — Now He's an Investor

Ned Dishman | National Basketball Association | Getty Images
  • In an interview with CNBC, former Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson III explained his decision to become a minority owner in the American Cornhole League.
  • "You kind of chuckle when you think about it," Thompson said of investing in cornhole. "But as you dive in and do the research, cornhole is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world."
  • Thompson labeled himself a "calculated investor" when discussing his investment strategy.

Former Georgetown University men's basketball coach John Thompson III is now an owner of a cornhole sports company.

Thompson and Asland Capital Partners CEO James Simmons III invested in the American Cornhole League. The transaction is ACL's first funding round, but specific terms were not provided.

In an interview with CNBC on Monday, Thompson, son of legendary Georgetown University coach John Thompson Jr., explained the investment in ACL, adding the league is positioned to increase revenue over this decade due to its growing popularity.

"You kind of chuckle when you think about it," Thompson said of investing in cornhole. "But as you dive in and do the research, cornhole is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world."

ACL launched in 2016 in South Carolina. The company has successfully leveraged the popular game — which requires participants to toss bags of corn kernels onto a platform for points — into a TV sport similar to bowling.

ACL has media agreements with NBCUniversal and Disney-owned ESPN and signed a multiyear deal with ViacomCBS in December. ESPN said viewership of ACL content is up 3% year over year compared with 2020. ACL's most-viewed airing in 2021 was the Pro Invitational, which averaged 468,000 viewers.

American Cornhole League
Source: American Cornhole League
American Cornhole League

ACL was featured in a 2018 CNBC profile, which noted players could earn up to $25,000 in prize money. ACL is in its fifth season and scheduled to hold a $250,000 prize pool competition Saturday. In the 2018 article, ACL founder Stacey Moore targeted a $1 million prize pool in the future.

Thompson praised Moore for "growing the sport and increasing awareness," adding ACL has "potential avenues of growth."

The league also has sponsorships with companies, including sports betting company DraftKings.

"Is it a risk? Absolutely," said Thompson. "But all investments are a risk. I feel strongly about the management team that we're putting together and the team already in place."

Thompson labeled himself a "calculated investor" when discussing his investment strategy. He used New York-based investment firm Inner Circle Sports to advise him on the ACL agreement and sees the company's e-commerce offerings as an opportunity, too. ACL makes revenue from cornhole merchandise, products and apparel.

In a statement announcing the transaction, Moore said the new capital and business relationships would "help take our growth to the next level as we continue to evolve as a professional sport and organization."

A return to the sidelines?

Thompson coached the Hoyas men's basketball program from 2004 to 2017, compiling a career 346-193 head-coaching record, including four years at Princeton University. He is currently an executive at Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the National Basketball Association's Washington Wizards franchise.

Asked if he would like to return to coaching, he didn't rule out the possibility but added he's enjoying the front-office role.

"The business aspect of running an organization is very similar to running and managing a team, yet very different," Thompson said, later factoring in the name, image and likeness policy, which allows college athletes to earn money.

Rules that barred college athletes from profiting from their name, image and likeness were lifted in July following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Already football players from top programs have agreed to deals over $1 million. Thompson said the NCAA adopting the NIL policy "was the right thing" but warned of the "positive and negative repercussions."   

"Intercollegiate sports changed significantly when that passed," he said. "I'm not saying that it's a bad thing; it's just a different world now. That coupled with the transfer rule — college coaching is a much different job."

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.

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