Would a college bowl by any other corporate name sell as sweetly?
Apologies, Mr. Shakespeare, but bowl season is upon us and that means it’s time to examine the sometimes baffling corporate names that companies pay to slap on a college football bowl game.
The classic example, of course, being the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl, a goofy name that lasted from 1990-97. For those too young to remember, Poulan Weed-Eater was a brand of gas- and electrical-powered grass and weed trimmers. Much like many bowls, the game subsequently had a series of corporate names (Sanford, MainStay, PetroSun, AdvoCare, Duck Commander, Camping World, and Walk-On’s).
Brand names being attached to bowls began in earnest in the 1980s as costs ramped up for both the bowl organizers and the network broadcasters that paid for the rights to air the games.
“We were losing a lot of money, and I mean a lot. We told the Sugar Bowl people that we’d like to continue, but that there’s no way we can do it within the traditional relationship,” then-ABC Sports programming vice president Robert Iger — now CEO of The Walt Disney Co. that owns ABC and ESPN — told The New York Times in December 1986.
This led the Sugar Bowl to ink a five-year, $10 million naming rights contract with Baltimore-based insurance company USF&G. The company also agreed to buy commercial airtime during the game, meaning both the bowl and network benefitted financially.
Thus was born the modern corporate bowl game name template.
It was also 1986 when the Sun Bowl became the John Hancock Sun Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl became the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl, and the Gator Bowl became the Mazda Gator Bowl. A few years later, we got the Mobil Cotton Bowl and the Federal Express Orange Bowl, and even the venerable Rose Bowl got a presenting sponsor (AT&T in 1999, followed by PlayStation 2 in 2003, Citi in 2004, Vizio in 2011, Northwestern Mutual in 2015, and Capital One in 2021).
Why do companies and organizations pay millions of dollars to put their name on college bowls?
Because bowls are primarily made-for-TV programming. Hence, it’s about brand-name recognition to build potential customer affinity and spending, as I wrote about in detail a few years ago. That’s why you get Northwest Southeastern State playing St. Grobian’s Dental Night College in the American Standard Toilet Bowl (not a real bowl — yet). When it comes time to buy a new potty, the thinking is that the bowl game name will be lurking in your mind in the toilet aisle at Home Depot.
Companies that are based far from the bowl location will pay for naming rights because bowl games get national TV airtime and other media mentions that put the name in front of millions of people. And such companies are often regional or national in scope, so it can make sense to get their brand in front of a wider audience, while a few bowls have sponsors that have more locally-focused intentions for bowl name deals.
And bowls in the middle of a weekday still attract millions of viewers and potential customers because December isn’t a great television month outside of football.
Many bowls have cycled through presenting sponsors, and some currently don’t have a corporate or institutional name attached. Instead, like the New Mexico, Frisco, Camellia and Myrtle Beach bowls, they merely used the core bowl name — which are geographic and tourism-oriented titles. (The camellia is the state flower of Alabama, where the game is played.) Sometimes, they simply just don’t have a corporate deal in some years.
Such deals typically include the corporate bowl name on TV and radio, printed materials, stadium physical and digital signage, social media and other online presentation. Companies also use bowl deals to deploy new products on-site, from physical items to loyalty programs and sign-ups for other perks. They’ll also use bowl ticket allotments as corporate and client rewards.
A downside to bowl name deals for the buyers is that news organizations aside from the broadcast rightsholder — ESPN in almost all bowls today — usually don’t use the full corporate name of the bowl or perhaps use it only once in coverage.
Here’s a quick look at the origins of some of this year’s less-obvious corporate names on bowl games.
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Hometown Lenders Bahamas Bowl
Dec 16, 11:30 am, ESPN
Alabama-based home mortgage lender.
Duluth Trading Cure Bowl
Dec 16, 3pm, ESPN
Wisconsin-based workwear and accessories retailer.
Wasabi Fenway Bowl
Dec 17, 11 am, ESPN
Boston-based cloud storage software provider.
Cricket Celebration Bowl
Dec 17, noon, ABC
Atlanta-based wireless service provider owned by AT&T.
SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl
Dec 17, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Texas-based roofing and building supplier.
Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl presented by Stifel
Dec 17, 3:30pm, ABC
Kimmel is the ABC nighttime talk show host, and Stifel is a St. Louis-based banking and financial services firm.
Lending Tree Bowl
Dec 17, 5:45pm, ESPN
Charlotte, NC-based online lending marketplace.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Dec 20, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
The Idaho Potato Commission is a marketing group for the state’s potato growers.
RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl
Dec 20, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Boca Raton, Fla.
A Georgia-based roofing services firm.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Dec 21, 9 p.m., ESPN
An Ohio-based less-than-truckload logistics company.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Dec 22, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Fort Worth, Texas
A Maryland-based arms, aerospace, and tech giant.
Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl
Dec 23, 3pm, ESPN
Alabama-based cybersecurity contractor for the Pentagon and other government agencies; this is the one that had been the Poulan Weed Eater-named bowl.
Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl
Dec 23, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
An Ohio-based home loan mortgage company; the Gasparilla name comes from the local mythical pirate José Gaspar and an annual pirate festival held in Tampa.
Easy Post Hawai’i Bowl
Dec 24, 8 p.m., ESPN
California-based supplier of automated shipping software and services.
Quick Lane Bowl
Dec 26, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Suburban Detroit-based oil change and tire chain owned by Ford Motor Co.; this bowl replaced the Motor City/Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Servpro First Responder Bowl
Dec 27, 3:15pm, ESPN
Tennessee-based fire and water damage restoration chain.
TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl
Dec 27, 6:45 p.m., ESPN
Kansas-based primary and secondary marketplace for sports and event tickets.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl
Dec 27, 10:15 pm, ESPN
Chicago-based online home mortgage lender; began as the Copper Bowl in 1989 and later was sometimes the Cactus Bowl, and corporate names have included Domino’s Pizza, Weiser Lock, Insight.com, Buffalo Wild Wings, TicketCity, Motel 6, and Cheez-It.
Peraton Military Bowl
Dec 28, 2pm, ESPN
Virginia-based cybersecurity and tech defense contractor.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Dec 28, 5:30pm, ESPN
Memphis-based national auto parts chain.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
Dec 28, 8pm, Fox
A large credit union and financial services firm, based in San Diego where the game is played.
Tax Act Texas Bowl
Dec 28, 9 p.m., ESPN
Iowa-based tax preparation software maker.
Bad Boy Mower’s Pinstripe Bowl
Dec 29, 2pm, ESPN
Arkansas-based maker of commercial and home zero-turn lawnmowers (formerly the title sponsor of the Gasparilla Bowl).
Valero Alamo Bowl
Dec 29, 9 p.m., ESPN
Oil, gas, and energy giant based in Texas.
Duke‘s Mayo Bowl
Dec 30, noon, ESPN
A South Carolina maker of mayonnaise that’s the third biggest domestic mayo brand after Kraft and Hellmann’s.
Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl
Dec 30, 2pm, CBS
El Paso, Texas
Cereal giant Kellogg’s mascot for its Frosted Flakes brand since 1952.
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
Dec 30, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Georgia-based tax prep software maker.
TransPerfect Music City Bowl
Dec 31, noon, ABC
New York City-based translation and languages services company for businesses.
Vrbo Fiesta Bowl
Dec 31, 4pm, ESPN
Texas-based online vacation rentals marketplace owned by Expedia; Vrbo originally was an acronym for Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) until 2019.
Relia Quest Bowl
Jan 2, noon, ESPN2
Tampa-based cybersecurity firm; formerly the Outback Bowl.
(Note: All times are Eastern.)
College football’s complete 2022-23 bowl schedule: TV times and more
(Photo of the victorious coach of the 2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl collecting his reward: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)