It started with Brent Musburger more than two months ago. It ended Saturday with an amazed Jay Kornegay.
“It’s crazy,” said Kornegay, the Westgate sports book director. “The popularity of the SuperContest is amazing.”
The Westgate SuperContest, the world’s most prestigious NFL handicapping event, just grew into a monster. At today’s 11 a.m. deadline there were 2,748 entries, crushing last year’s record of 1,854. The winner will collect more than $1 million for the first time.
Musburger, the legendary 78-year-old broadcaster and lead host of the Vegas Stats & Information Network, was the first to sign up on July 1. After forking over the $1,500 fee, he doubled down by paying $3,000 for the limit of two entries.
The line that formed behind Musburger swelled into something Kornegay did not imagine.
“I talked to a lot of people going into the football season about the number of entries we were going to get this year, and I can tell you no one said over 2,300,” Kornegay said. “Obviously, we’re pleasantly surprised and excited about the number of entries.
“No one saw this coming this year. I didn’t expect it.”
The prize pool — after the Westgate deducts an 8 percent administrative fee — will approach $4 million. The champion receives 35 percent of the pool, second place is awarded 14 percent and the top 50 finishers get paid.
“It’s a life-changer now,” Kornegay said.
In a twist this year, Kornegay created SuperContest Gold, a $5,000-entry fee contest that is separate from the SuperContest. The higher-end, winner-take-all event is limited to one entry per person and drew 94 entrants.
“That is double what we anticipated for Gold,” Kornegay said.
The rules are easy to figure, so the simplicity of the contest format is a large part of its appeal. Participants are required to select five NFL games against the spread each week during the 17-week regular season.
The SuperContest attracts armchair quarterbacks, anonymous dreamers, a handful of well-known media personalities and the sharpest minds in football handicapping. The 2016 contest produced a pair of Cinderella stories.
The surprise winner was a Starbucks barista from Las Vegas. Damon Graham, 32, posted a 54-28-3 record (65.9 percent) to earn $895,482.
Mark Jorstad, a 61-year-old farmer from Morris, Illinois, said he drove a tractor all fall and rarely watched games while compiling a 53-29-3 mark to collect a second-place check for $358,192.
The contest was a local curiosity a decade ago. It drew only 342 contestants in 2007. This is the 29th year for the SuperContest, which was created in 1989 at what was then known as the Las Vegas Hilton.
“I remember about 10 years ago we were talking about how this has a chance to be the next World Series of Poker someday,” Kornegay said. “I definitely think more people follow and bet pro football than play poker.”
And more people use social media outlets these days. Word of the SuperContest has spread on Twitter, and the prize money involved has become a lottery-like attraction.
“What are the reasons for the growth? There are a few,” Kornegay said. “It’s the overall popularity of betting sports, more people are finding out they can enter this Las Vegas-based contest, and I certainly think our partnership with VSiN has contributed.”
For entertainment purposes, Kornegay set a prop on Musburger’s finish position in the contest. He made Musburger’s over/under 824.5 out of 2,748.
Kornegay said, “I think Brent will finish in the top 30 percent.”