July 21, 2024
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Competitive cornhole clash finds a home in Ventura County

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The event will take place between Aug. 25 and Aug. 27. (courtesy photo)

Ventura restaurateur John Karayan originally set out to throw an old-fashioned block party in 2009. It’s almost 15 years later, and Karayan’s idea is more than just a party — it’s a spectacle.

His idea turned into The Throw Down Cornhole Festival, a 1,280-team cornhole tournament with $350,000 in prize money — the largest cornhole tournament in the world, with the year’s event being hosted at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in August. 

Karayan started putting on street parties outside his restaurant, Spencer Makenzie’s, at the request of some of his regular customers and as a guerrilla marketing tactic for his business. 

The first year, Karayan only had live music and realized something was missing. 

The following year, he introduced cornhole to a 32-team field and since then, it has become the premier draw to Karayan’s grand party, which is now in business with the American Cornhole League, televised on ESPN and features three days of live bands and a car show. 

“When you get there, it’s an experience. You’re walking into the Superbowl, not to a cornhole event in a parking lot,” Karayan said in an interview with the Pacific Coast Business Times. 

“I put a lot of emphasis on the look and experience.”

Karayan took inspiration from nearby music festivals Coachella and Stagecoach. 

He was struck by how the events created an experience that was more than just music, and he molded The Throw Down in their image, so much so that he will even have 60 camping spots for the first time this year.

“I haven’t even come close to taking this event to where I think we can take it to,” Karayan said. 

Even with Karayan, a Ventura County native, thinking there is room to grow, the event is already poised to give another massive injection into Ventura’s economy when it takes place Aug. 25-27 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

Karayan is expecting 30,000 people to attend, with a whopping 12,000 anticipated on Saturday.

“We’re such a tourism-based community. It lends itself very well,” said Stephanie Caldwell, CEO of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce. “[Festival attendees] see what they like and they want to come back and maybe they vacation here.”

“The impact to the local hotels and restaurants and shops and all of that is incredible,” Caldwell added.

For the attendees, it can also be fun for reasons outside of the multiple cornhole competitions, music and car show. The festival is within walking distance from the beach and people can befriend strangers from other states and countries.

Yetty Irwan, a professional cornhole player, believes that is a huge draw.

“It’s really fun. You get to meet a lot of cornhole players from all over the country, sometimes even from outside of the country,” said Irwan, the winner of last year’s ACL Pro Shootout women’s singles at The Throw Down. 

The Throw Down has almost doubled in its number of registered teams since 2020 and as the number of teams has grown, the prize money has jumped to over $300,000. 

Ninety percent of the signup money goes right back to the prize money pool, Karayan said. 

The winner of the A bracket will take home $40,000 and the more light-hearted four-person team Crew Cup cornhole tournament offers an $8,000 first-place prize. 

But the prize money goes deep into the field, which is a big reason why Karayan thinks so many contestants come to play. 

He uses the remaining 10% of the signup money to pay for the expenses of putting on the tournament, such as the $30,000 he spent last year on banners.

He initially paid out of pocket to plan the event, but the cost was “astronomical.”

Outside of Karayan, he has some local and national sponsors as well as a business partner, David Garcia, who help him make the event possible. 

AllCornhole provides all the boards for the tournament and Karayan pays the ACL to run the bracket.

Karayan’s arrangement with the ACL brought him something he long had a desire for: TV time for the tournament. 

The ACL’s broadcasting deal with ESPN means the championship rounds are on air.“I’ve always thought this was something that should be played on television,” Karayan said. 

As for his initial guerrilla marketing plan? 

It worked out, with his restaurant now having national notoriety. He ships his restaurant’s sauces across the country and Spencer Makenzie’s is still a presenting sponsor of The Throw Down. 

“It’s almost like a Nathan’s hot dog,” he said. 

Registration for the big cornhole tournament is still open, as are various other cornhole opportunities at The Throw Down.
General admission tickets are also still available. 

email: newsroom@pacbiztimes.com