Iowa State Cyclones

Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis is a new Iowa State fan

Lemonis said Cyclone supporters would come to his bowl game, and he was right

Marcus Lemonis (CNBC photo)
Marcus Lemonis (CNBC photo)

ORLANDO, Fla. — The chairman/CEO of Camping World Holdings wanted Iowa State to be the Big 12 team in Saturday’s Camping World Bowl.

Coincidentally, or not, the bowl’s pooh-bahs chose Iowa State when it was their turn to grab a Big 12 representative.

“I would hope I had zero input and leave it at that,” Marcus Lemonis said this week. It was during a phone interview, so you couldn’t tell if he was winking or not.

Hours before the bowl-selections, however, Lemonis tweeted “Feeling like we are close with an announcement ... ultimately not my call #not100percentincharge but feeling good about @NDFootball and @CycloneFB ...”

 

“Three days before the selection day I said I wanted Notre Dame and Iowa State,” Lemonis said. “I really love those two fan bases.

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“I understand the Cedar Rapids market and Iowa, and Indiana/Notre Dame as well. I pay very close attention to the ability of fan bases to show up. Iowa State and Notre Dame have amazing fan bases. The game is sold out.”

It is just the second time that has been the case.

However, the Camping World’s pick of Iowa State did not go over well at all by the fans of Kansas State. The Wildcats were 8-4 to Iowa State’s 7-5, they beat the Cyclones in their regular-season finale, and they also own a win over playoff team Oklahoma. Plus, they traditionally bring a lot of fans to bowls.

But Lemonis preferred to dwell on Iowa State, saying “it’s one of those universities that just shows up. It’s a very loyal, active fan base. Those things are really important to me. Selfishly, I knew their fan base would show up. Ultimately, we’re running a business, and that was the best deal.”

Business is Lemonis’ calling card. Not only is he a CEO of Camping World, Gander Outdoors and other businesses, he also stars in a CNBC program called “The Profit,” a reality show about saving small businesses.

Sports is one of Lemonis’ business vehicles. He has sponsored NASCAR’s Truck Series since 2009, first under the Camping World name and now under Gander Outdoors. He also has sponsored individual races.

In 2016, Camping World acquired the naming rights not only for Saturday’s bowl game, but for the stadium in which it is held.

“There’s definitely a connection to camping and NASCAR, and to college football,” Lemonis said. “Not pro football, college football.

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“So we’ve only really invested in those two primary sports. The stadium was a great opportunity, and we’re very blessed with a good game. It’s really nice fit for me.”

Last week, Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard invited Lemonis to the Cyclones’ massive pep rally Friday night at the Orange County Convention Center. But Cyclone fans didn’t really need to thank Lemonis. The biggest crowd this game has had in the last seven years was 51,098, and just 41,125 came last year for West Virginia-Syracuse.

“Sold out” at this 60,219-seat stadium is gratitude enough. Although, Lemonis wouldn’t complain if Cyclone fans bought an RV or two at Camping Worlds on their way home from Florida.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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