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New Year’s Day is, in my opinion, the best day of the year for sports. Yes, I am somewhat partial to college football, and my Wisconsin Badgers have been in the Rose Bowl for the past three years, but on a day where the majority of the country is recovering from their New Year’s Eve festivities, I can’t think of a better day for sports. Beyond just historic bowl match ups, if it weren’t for Gary Bettman’s inability to strike a deal with the players, the NHL would have held its Winter Classic – a tribute to old school, outdoor hockey – on January 1 as well. Together, these events make for the perfect way to spend the first day of my year.
Upon watching a full-day of college football in which Wisconsin once again failed to capitalize on a winnable game, I started thinking about when The Rose Bowl evolved to “The Rose Bowl Presented by Vizio.” This, of course, isn’t the only bowl game that has been branded. In actuality, sponsorship of bowl games has become quite commonplace. Every bowl game has now forged this relationship with a brand or company; the Tostito’s Fiesta Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, the All State Sugar Bowl and the Discover BCS National Championship to name a few.
While traditionalists may feel that branding each bowl game takes away from the storied nature of these events, I contend that branding games doesn’t do anything to diminish the value and history of the games. Kevin Adler, president of Engage Marketing, doesn’t agree. “I understand the financial considerations of getting those [sponsorship] checks…but I think some of these bowls devalue themselves with the type of brands they associate with.”
While Mr. Adler certainly has a point – the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, for example, does seem a bit odd – a bowl sponsorship offers brands an interesting way to garner the attention of a large audience. With the rapid adoption of DVR and multi-device viewing, brands are hard-pressed to catch the eyes of viewers. A bowl sponsorship guarantees a logo placement on the field, the brand name being mentioned countless times on ESPN and in the news, and the opportunity to create a cohesive campaign centered on the bowl. Brands can use the event as a content creator to generate branded content around the larger experience. The Outback Bowl, sponsored by Outback Restaurant, strives to get people to eat at their restaurant. Outback created a special promotion around their bowl sponsorship that, depending on which team won the game, the restaurant gave one of two appetizers to diners for free; a pretty novel concept that will keep the bowl top of mind to prospective customers. Who wouldn’t welcome a free blooming onion from Outback?
At a time when brands are coming to terms with the fact that a 30-second TV spot doesn’t carry the same clout and effectiveness that it did a decade ago, I believe that bowl sponsorships can prove to be an effective and accretive campaign tactic for brands that are both well-established and up-and-coming. Heck, I would have never known what Belk Department stores were without the Belk Bowl a few days ago.