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`Title Sponsors' Give Games a Cash Boost

WHAT'S in a name? A lot of money and other support, if you are a college bowl game. That's why nearly all the games now have ``title sponsors.'' The name-dropping has led to some odd-sounding marriages. Corporate identities have been attached to longstanding bowls, sometimes with no apparent connection. The Independence Bowl, for example, just became the Poulan-Weed Eater Independence Bowl. Miami's Orange Bowl is now the Federal Express Orange Bowl; the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, dropped its title altogether and re-emerged as the John Hancock Bowl.

The Blockbuster Bowl, debuting this year, found its corporate sugar daddy only two months ago. The sponsor is Blockbuster Video, a chain of video stores headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

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Blockbuster Video will provide ``around $2.5 million'' in support for the game, says the bowl's media coordinator, David Abernathy. The video chain is providing marketing savvy and even selling some tickets. In return, the bowl's official logo, a blue theater ticket, is nearly identical to the corporation's logo. Blockbuster Video will also make its presence felt through signs in the stadium; TV commercials; ads in the game program; and at a corporate reception tent.

The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., the granddaddy of bowl games in its 77th year, remains the most conspicuous holdout against what purists see as creeping commercialism.

``We're asked why we don't [have a title sponsor], and we say, `How come everybody else does?''' says Steve Leland, manager of sponsor relations for the Tournament of Roses. ``We've been accused of being undersponsored,'' says Mr. Leland. ``But we like to think [a bowl game] can exist as a noncommercial event.''

Yet sponsored bowls seem happy with their arrangements, too. Some folks worried that the Independence Bowl (Dec. 15), in Shreveport, La., would be called the ``Weed Bowl'' when hometown-based Poulan-Weed Eater anted up $250,000 for title sponsorship, says Pat Tiller, the bowl's executive director. But it didn't happen. ``We're happy with the title; we love it,'' she says.

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