The Business of College Bowl Game Sponsorships
Gloved hands around a frosty beer. The smell of slow-cooking chili. Painted faces chanting fight songs. All of these things typically come to mind when you think about college football bowl games.
But companies that sponsor these games are hoping you'll be thinking about them when you turn on the TV or walk into the stadium. From pizza and fried chicken to auto parts and insurance, 35 companies jumped in to have their name plastered on this year's bowl games. But what's really in it for these businesses, who are shelling out hundreds of thousands of sponsorship dollars?
"Bowl games are the great mixed bag of sports marketing opportunities," says Robert Boland, academic chair at the Tisch Center for Sports Management at New York University. "They work best when the company has a local connection with the host market or the school in the game, so it creates some continuing relationship. Even minor bowls can do a lot with fans and people."
Beef ‘O’Brady’s, a Tampa, Fla.-based sports pub chain, has sponsored a bowl game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg since 2009. Last year’s game inspired an Idaho man to open the first Beef ‘O’ Brady’s in the Northwest. CEO Chris Elliot told Nation’s Restaurant News his company gets about 20 to 30 calls a month from people interested in opening franchises in California and Nevada.
Frank Muir, CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, says his decision to sponsor Boise’s Humanitarian Bowl -- now the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl -- was an easy one. The sponsorship brings together the two most famous icons of Idaho: potatoes and the Boise State blue turf. The commission is already a sponsor of Boise State and University of Idaho football.
"Bowl game sponsorships can give a company great activation on the local level, much better than the playoff alternative," Boland says. "The city puts on its best face, there’s plenty of opportunity for corporate entertainment and hospitality, and the hope is that this period of activation far outlasts the bowl week. If it's continuous, they look forward to the next year."
Plus, many of the games provide a good excuse to use an otherwise empty stadium (think pricey box seats), like Yankee Stadium, which is hosting the New Era Pinstripe Bowl between Rutgers and Iowa State.
Sponsorships from sports bars, fast food and pizza chains are obvious choices for football games. But what about potatoes?
"We've got a national campaign pounding the fact that potatoes are good for you. People have forgotten this…just because they taste good doesn't mean they’re bad. So we think it fits in perfectly with America’s favorite pastime," Muir says.
The Idaho Potato Commission doesn’t have the budget of a packaged goods company. The sponsorship costs $375,000 for this year and by year six, it goes up to $450,000. But that cost includes TV spots, which could potentially reach more than three million viewers. More of these viewers might be men, but with more women enrolled in college than men, Muir sees a growing interest in NCAA football among women.
"Mom is the one deciding what is going to be fed at the tailgating parties. And we want it to be potato skins," he says.
Let the potato puns roll. Like Louisiana's Independence Bowl, which was once sponsored by Poulan Weed-Eaters, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is generating some laughs. As Muir told the Associated Press, "You have to have a thick skin to be in the potato business."
The commission is launching a rather sizeable ad campaign at Bronco Stadium. A custom semi-trailer will haul a 12,000 pound potato to the game -- and then around the country for a tour benefitting Meals on Wheels. If that doesn’t make you hungry for a loaded spud – or a plate of crispy fries -- you're hopeless.
"You can think of it as a joke, or you can think of it as a great way to have your name mentioned a lot. If you're comfortable being part of the joke, like the 'Weed-eater Bowl,' you can embrace it with some humor because it just becomes an advertising opportunity," says Boland.
The Investing Answer: Sure, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl might sound silly, but agricultural sponsorships are old school. The Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl were all intended to promote locally sourced products. You could say Idaho potatoes are just bringing the bowl game back to its roots.
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