What started out as a football fan's ploy to grab the attention of the cameras at ESPN's College GameDay has turned into something much bigger, better and greener: a donation of thousands of dollars to a children's hospital.
Carson King, 24, arrived at the College GameDay stages in Ames, Iowa, for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes-Iowa State University Cyclones rivalry football game last weekend. With him, he had friends and a two-sided sign. On the first side — the funnier side, King thought — was a proclamation about Iowa State's quarterback: "Brock Purdy is Corn Jesus."
On the other, he made a plea for beer money. "Busch Light supply needs replenished," he wrote, with his Venmo address, Carson-King-25, below. Iowa, King explained, is "known for its love of Busch Light," which he said is his "drink of choice."
The former Iowa State student from Altoona, Iowa, told TODAY he didn't actually expect to make it on TV, especially after they arrived at the College GameDay site and found the main stage area full by 5:30 a.m. Instead, they found a secondary stage "off in the middle of nowhere" and decided to try their luck there.
It turned out that he had a prime position right behind show commentator Kirk Herbstreit for much of the program, and King and his sign received plenty of airtime. Afterward, King's friend asked him who was "blowing up his phone" with texts.
"It wasn't texts," King explained. "It was Venmo notifications." King received $400 within an hour.
"I said, 'That's so much beer! This is great!'" he said.
But his phone kept pinging. When his Venmo account reached $600 in beer money donations, King had a change of heart. "I thought, 'I think I should do something better with this money than just buy Busch Light with it,'" King said. "As great as Busch Light is, I think I want to donate this money to charity."
After consulting with his family and friends, King decided that after he deducted the price of one case of Busch Light for himself, he would donate the rest of the Venmo donations to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital. King was familiar with the hospital's work because he had previously participated in the Iowa State Dance Marathon, which also benefits the children's hospital. "They do so much; it's incredible," he said.
King saw this as an opportunity to "make my mark," he said, and he found it fitting that as an Iowa State Cyclones fan, he would be able to make a donation to an institution at the University of Iowa as a positive gesture "in the spirit of the rivalry."
Generosity, it seems, does not need to be replenished. After King posted his intentions, Busch Beer saw his tweet and decided to join in the cause.
"This is the best thing we've read all year, we're inspired," they tweeted back to King. "We're going to match your donation to University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics, and we'll throw in some of that Busch Light you were looking for."
That wasn't all. Venmo saw King's post too, and they tweeted to count them in as well. "We see a lot of great stories, but this is one of our favs," they wrote. "Count us in for matching the donation too."
In late September, King's Venmo account received over $41,000, with donations ranging from 25 cents to $300. "Anything is incredible," he said. "This is all just crazy." At the end of the month, donations topped out at $3 million.
Meanwhile, King himself only has $400 in his checking account. He works on the rapid response security team at the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona, trying to make enough money to send himself back to college. King hopes to work in law enforcement eventually.
"I make my own money," he laughed. "I just bought my first house. I pay my bills and I can adult pretty well, so I am happy to do this for the children's hospital."
He does wish that the event that drew him to College GameDay in the first place ended differently, though. Iowa State lost to Iowa by just one point in the last few plays.
"It was a really good game other than that," King said. "Go State!"