The 2016-2017 College Football Bowl Games Are About To Kickoff - Bowl Game Sponsorship Questions, Answers and Approaches

By Paul Birdwell (

The college football bowl season is upon us with ESPN leading the charge and bowl games getting underway with six bowl matchups on Saturday, December 17 of the total forty-bowl games that will be played in 2016-17.

2016 – 2017 College Football Bowls Schedule, ESPN

With only 128 college football teams on the FBS level the bowls are now taking 82 of those teams to play in postseason bowl games which has led to a few teams with losing records the last couple of seasons getting bowl invites, something that was unheard of until recent years.

With so many bowls games and only so many sponsorship dollars to go around it seems natural that a few bowl games would be without title and/or presenting sponsors, and that is the case this year with four bowls on the hunt for title and/or presenting sponsors:

Hawaii Bowl
St. Petersburg Bowl
Birmingham Bowl
Boca Raton Bowl

Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today takes a good look at the sponsorship issues around bowl games in a recent piece that details some of the struggles in finding sponsorship in a bowl game market that at first-glance seems oversaturated:

College football bowl sponsorships become a harder bargain, Brent Schrotenboer, USA Today

“But the name game finally may have hit a wall. Six of this year’s 41 bowl games have failed to obtain similar title or presenting sponsorships, raising more questions about the market appeal of an 80-team postseason that already includes several games with sparse crowds and 20 bowl teams this year with 6-6 records or worse.

“There are 41 games this year, so there’s more competition for it,” said Mark Neville, executive director of the Holiday Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego. “We’ve got to work a little bit harder and be a little bit more creative to secure them.”

Twenty years ago, there were 18 bowl games. Five years ago, there were 35, and all of them had a title or presenting sponsorship to help pay their bills. Starting Dec. 17, there will be 41 postseason games through Jan. 9, including the biggest game-changer in the business: the College Football Playoff.

After debuting in January 2015, the four-team Playoff sweetened the postseason pot with more money than ever but also arguably made the lower-tier bowl games seem even less attractive to sponsors.

The Hawaii, St. Petersburg, Birmingham and Boca Raton bowls don’t have title sponsors this year after previous title sponsors didn’t renew. Another game, The Miami Beach Bowl, has not had a title sponsor after starting in 2014. The national championship game also has not announced a presenting sponsor after two years with AT&T — though the game's asking price is much more, and a deal might come soon.

Lower-tier games generally fetch less than $500,000 from these companies in exchange for changing the game’s name to help build awareness for the companies’ brands. The more prestigious bowls can command $20 million or more as part of a larger package, according to Navigate Research, a Chicago firm that measures sports marketing investments.”

Even at the low end a $500,000 annual sponsorship investment in a bowl game is a large number that probably eliminates the vast majority of private and public companies in America that don’t have the wherewithal to spend those kind of marketing dollars on a bowl game sponsorship.

If the bowl games now missing title and/or presenting sponsors are going to convince companies to become involved with their games then they must provide a realistic and well-reasoned return-on-investment (ROI) rationale that will assure a potential sponsor that they will get their bang for their hard-earned sponsorship buck.

At the Roaring Fork Agency we use a very simple formula to compute a potential ROI for an event like a bowl game that is based on three factors:

Reach = How many people will the sponsorship reach?

Frequency = How many times will the sponsorship reach people?

Relevance = Will the sponsorship reach the right people?

In order to examine a real world scenario we will use the 2017 Birmingham Bowl game which is being played on Sunday, December 29 at 2 PM EST between South Florida and South Carolina. 

Let’s assume that the cost of the Title Sponsorship for the Birmingham Bowl is $500,000 annually.

Birmingham Bowl Reach – All Numbers Approximates

Attendance = 50,000

Television = 1.2 Million viewers

How many consumers approximately will have heard the name of the Title Sponsor at least one time in the month of December above and beyond the people attending the game and watching it on television = 3 million

How many consumers approximately will have heard the name of the Title Sponsor at least one time the rest of the year besides December above and beyond the people attending the game and watching it on television = 1.5 million.

Total Birmingham Bowl Reach = 5,570,000

Birmingham Bowl Frequency – All Numbers Approximates

Total Birmingham Bowl Reach = 5,570,000

Each consumer hearing about the Birmingham Bowl will hear the Title Sponsor name approximately = 7 times

Total Birmingham Bowl Frequency = 38,990,000

Birmingham Bowl Relevance – All Numbers Approximates

With South Florida and South Carolina playing in the 2017 Birmingham Bowl which is contractually obligated to take one team from the SEC Conference and one team from the American Athletic Conference, if we assume that the potential Title Sponsor is a company located in and does most of its business in the Southeastern and Eastern United States the “Relevance” for such a company becoming the Title Sponsor of this bowl game would be HIGH.

At the Roaring Fork Agency when we match a company to an event that fits into the HIGH category of “Relevance” we usually assign a number of…

80% Relevance

….which in this case would give a potential Title Sponsor of the Birmingham Bowl the following return-on-investment (ROI):

Total Birmingham Bowl Frequency = 38,990,000 x .080 = 31,192,000

Birmingham Bowl Title Sponsor Cost = $500,000

Birmingham Bowl Cost Per Impression:

$500,000 / 31,192,000 = 16 cents per impression

At the Roaring Fork Agency we believe the corporate sponsors we work with should get from their sponsorship investments impressions somewhere between….

5 and 20 cents per impression

….which puts the potential ROI of 16 cents per impression for the Title Sponsorship of the Birmingham Bowl in a good spot for a potential corporate sponsor.

Of course, what really makes sponsorship an effective marketing tool when done right, which usually boils down to matching the right event with the right corporate sponsor is the sponsor, is being able to get a lot more out of a sponsorship than just a bottom-line cost per impression number.

As pointed out by Kim Skildum-Reid at her terrific website Power Sponsorship what a great event+ company sponsorship comes down to is = MEANING:

Sponsorship Seekers:  Please Stop Doing Attendee Division, Kim Skildum-Reid, Power Sponsorship

“Sponsorship stopped being about visibility decades ago. It’s now squarely about meaning. It’s about brands connecting with their target markets in a powerful, meaningful way, engendering greater alignment, preference, loyalty, and advocacy. If you’re not talking about that stuff, you’re not a compelling sponsorship option.

Instead of trying to make some kind of attendee division metric look attractive, concentrate on creating an offer that addresses the following:

1.   Clearly lay out the meaning of your organization or what you’re doing to the fans. Why do people care? Why is what you’re doing different to the other options for fans?

2.  Fan segmentation by psychographics. That sounds complicated, but it’s not. Just segment your fans by the primary reasons they care about the property. If you’re a team, is their primary motivation their love for the team itself? The tribal atmosphere of the game? The social occasion with their friends? Something else?

3.  An overview of your marketing plan. How do you nurture your relationship with these fans?

4.  Creative ideas for leverage. This is the number one most important part of your offer! How could the sponsor use this investment? What could they do with what you’re offering to achieve their objectives and get closer to the fans? For a sponsor, this is the real “what’s in it for me” moment.

5.  Fully customized benefits list, including all of the benefits they will need to carry out the leverage ideas you’ve given them.”

Great sponsorship deals that are Win-Win for both parties involved, the event and the corporate sponsor, is ALL about companies and their brands connecting with their Target Markets.  In the case of the Birmingham Bowl it is imperative that whoever is representing the bowl game in the marketplace be targeting companies that have consumers today and would have consumers in the future that would have the opportunity to see or hear about the Birmingham Bowl Title Sponsor, and more importantly be able to buy their products or services, which is a great starting point to creating a list of companies to pitch the Title Sponsorship of the Birmingham Bowl to in the near future.

Birmingham Bowl –

Power Sponsorship –

National Football Foundation –


College Football Playoff –

If you have any questions about event sponsorship or venue naming rights contact the Roaring Fork Agency at:

San Francisco, California – 415 730 – 4854

Seattle, Washington – 206 717 – 4854

Bend, Oregon – 541 237 – 8080

Twitter - @RoaringForkAgcy