We finally reach the end of December and hit the stretch of college football Bowl games that casual fans actually pay more attention to, starting on Friday and then running through the BCS Championship Game on January 7. To this point, the mix of competitive games has been luke warm, as has attendance in many of the markets, with TV cameras scrambling to find tight images to cover the swaths of empty seats. The early Bowl games have even been hit by weather issues, including a snow storm in Detroit that saw the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl draw an all-time low crowd this past week. However with the deluge of Bowl games du jour, brands are continuing to line up to spend dollars to promote the game and support the schools that come from far and wide to places like Idaho and New Mexico and Louisiana and even New York. The games remain good content for broadcast, filling hours of programming spots with live college football, and some select brands with an eye to the future are finding that an investment now in a prime bowl in the right city may lead to a bigger payoff down the road when the Playoff system is in place and there are less events with bigger coverage.
So while Idaho potatoes ring up sales and awareness for their spuds off a larger than expected turnout in Boise for Utah State and Toledo, and those in Washington wonder what value came from sponsoring a Military Bowl game between Bowling Green and San Jose State with no service Academy in sight, the folks at Berkshire Hathaway’s Russell Athletic brand look not just to Friday’s matchup between Virginia Tech and Rutgers in Orlando, but to the future as well. Why does a Bowl sponsorship for Russell make sense?
As an athletic brand, Russell needs to find ways to engage not just the consumer but decision makers for large scale sales that can bring even more peer to peer exposure. That means coaches, athletic directors, band managers, equipment managers…people who hold the purse strings to athletic budgets where a brand can build relationships not just for the one-off exposure of a football game but for all sports year-round. Bowl games become an entry point for conversation year-round as teams are considered for a matchup. That exposure for a brand like Russell is invaluable. It gets the Russell name in a conversation where it may not have been before.
“As a brand whose heritage is so deeply rooted in college football, it is a natural fit for Russell Athletic to partner with FCSports for the Russell Athletic Bowl,” said Gary Barfield, executive vice president, Russell Brands, LLC. “We are also excited to extend our “Together We R” brand campaign in new ways and reach even more consumers through all the channels that FCSports provides as part of this relationship.”
Those channels include social media, time awarded on ESPN for spots and brand exposure as well as events in and around Orlando during a time of year when the city is bustling with tourists, not just for the game but coming in and out of the resort areas. It gives Russell Athletic an engagement platform that they would not normally have for both the traditional consumer and for the mass-purchaser in an athletic department. The support Russell gives the Orlando-based Bowl today is also a hedge on future investment for the brand. Orlando, a warm weather winter destination with a large convention center and thousands of hotel rooms, is sure to be in the mix when the college football playoff comes into play in the next few years. By being there now in a challenged economy, Russell is positioning itself for a sponsorship play against its competing brands in future years. It is not spending dollars in markets where the payoff is just for TV for a year…it is making an investment in college athletics, a space where the brand has been very successful for years, with a look to continue to grow in the future.
So while many may scoff at Bowl sponsorship away from New Year’s Day and the BCS Championship, the fact remains that for select brands a Bowl spend makes great sense not just for name recognition today, but for where the ever-hanging college landscape may go in the future. Russell Athletics is one of those brands leveraging their successful past and their current assets, to be in position for the future.