Where college football bowl names come from: Mayonnaise, mowers and more

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
Nassau, Bahamas

Alabama-based home mortgage lender.

Duluth Trading Cure Bowl

Dec 16, 3pm, ESPN
Orlando, Fla.

Wisconsin-based workwear and accessories retailer.

Wasabi Fenway Bowl

Dec 17, 11 am, ESPN
Boston

Boston-based cloud storage software provider.

Cricket Celebration Bowl

Dec 17, noon, ABC
Atlanta

Atlanta-based wireless service provider owned by AT&T.

SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl

Dec 17, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Las Vegas

Texas-based roofing and building supplier.

Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl presented by Stifel

Dec 17, 3:30pm, ABC
Inglewood, Calif.

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
Mobile, Ala.

Charlotte, NC-based online lending marketplace.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Dec 20, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Boise, Idaho

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.

RoofClaim.com Bowl


Western Kentucky is the reigning RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl champion, beating Appalachian State in 2021. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Dec 21, 9 p.m., ESPN
New Orleans

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
Shreveport, La.

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
Tampa, Fla.

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
Honolulu

California-based supplier of automated shipping software and services.

Quick Lane Bowl

Dec 26, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Detroit

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
Dallas

Tennessee-based fire and water damage restoration chain.

TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl

Dec 27, 6:45 p.m., ESPN
Birmingham, Ala.

Kansas-based primary and secondary marketplace for sports and event tickets.

Guaranteed Rate Bowl

Dec 27, 10:15 pm, ESPN
Phoenix

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
Annapolis, Md.

Virginia-based cybersecurity and tech defense contractor.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Dec 28, 5:30pm, ESPN
Memphis, Tenn.

Memphis-based national auto parts chain.

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl

Dec 28, 8pm, Fox
San Diego

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
Houston

Iowa-based tax preparation software maker.

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl


The TaxSlayer and TaxAct Bowls both want you to be ready for tax season. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Bad Boy Mower’s Pinstripe Bowl

Dec 29, 2pm, ESPN
new York

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
San Antonio

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
Jacksonville, Fla.

Georgia-based tax prep software maker.

TransPerfect Music City Bowl

Dec 31, noon, ABC
Nashville, Tenn.

New York City-based translation and languages ​​services company for businesses.

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl

Dec 31, 4pm, ESPN
Phoenix

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, Fla.

Tampa-based cybersecurity firm; formerly the Outback Bowl.

(Note: All times are Eastern.)

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(Photo of the victorious coach of the 2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl collecting his reward: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

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