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Why College Bowl Sponsorships Are a Touchdown for Chick-fil-A and Allstate

Adweek, January 16, 2017

By Christine Birkner

As marketers suit up for Super Bowl LI, some brands were already busy capitalizing on another rabid football audience: college bowl fans. The largest college bowls, known as the New Year's Six games—the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Capital One Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl by Northwestern Mutual, Allstate Sugar Bowl and Goodyear Cotton Bowl—were played this year from Dec. 30 to Jan. 2. Sponsorship efforts, say bowl brands, tend to pay off handsomely.

"Our research shows that [college football] fans are two times more likely to purchase Goodyear if they're aware of our Cotton Bowl sponsorship," noted Seth Klugherz, North American director of marketing at Goodyear, which sponsored the Cotton Bowl for the third consecutive year.

After the Super Bowl and NFL playoffs, college bowl games are the most impactful sporting events from a marketing perspective, said Jimmy Bruns, svp of client services at GMR Marketing. "You're at the time of the year where the NFL playoffs aren't happening yet and the NBA isn't yet in its midseason form, so it's a unique opportunity in the calendar to be out there from a sports perspective," he said.

ESPN broadcasts the games and arranges the sponsorships, which often are part of a season-long deal for ad time during college football games. "It builds their brand, drives awareness, or achieves tactical multimedia objectives over the course of the football season," said Rob Temple, svp of sports management at ESPN. "They get a lot of earned media and PR extensions and a ton of brand exposure."

Brands can calculate ROI of these sponsorships by taking surveys on purchase intent and net promoter score before the game, and then taking those same measures after the game, GMR's Bruns said.

"You have to be able to provide a proof point of why a specific opportunity is worth it: that it's working on a year-to-year basis, or that your audience is watching these games and they're passionate about them, or that you moved the needle in terms of purchase intent," he said.

Here, a closer look at how the bowls played out.

Television ratings

Brands sign sponsorship agreements with ESPN based on ratings expectations. "Any time someone mentions your name on TV or in the media, you can put a dollar value on it," said Matt Powell, sports industry analyst at NPD Group. "It's a way of getting a mass representation of the brand names, and of driving recognition."

Social media

The bowl games amass a large Twitter following, and brands often create shareable social content related to the games. This year, Goodyear commissioned sculptures of the Cotton Bowl team mascots, the University of Wisconsin's Bucky the Badger and Western Michigan's Bronco—all made of tires—and posted behind-the-scenes videos of the artists at work creating them, which earned 100 million media impressions.

National Exposure

Chick-fil-A's 20-year sponsorship of the Peach Bowl began because both parties are based in Atlanta, but the tie-in ultimately helped the firm reach a national audience. "We were a regional brand at that time in the Southeast and Southwest, and college football is a passion point for those two areas specifically," said Chick-fil-A marketing services director Robert McLaughlin. "We wanted to ramp up our brand recognition from a national standpoint, and it's improved visibility for us in the Northeast, Midwest and Northwest."

Regional plays

Allstate began sponsoring the New Orleans-based Sugar Bowl in 2006 as a way to support the city's economy after Hurricane Katrina. "For an insurer to position themselves in the community as helping to support it makes sense," said Bryce Townsend, head of business solutions and sales at ESP Properties, a sports sponsorship agency.

Charitable effort

Chick-fil-A has donated $16.3 million to charity and scholarship programs since its sponsorship of the Peach Bowl began in 1996. More than 1,000 employees were on-site volunteering at the game this year. "It really helps with employee engagement," said McLaughlin.