Wrapping a commercial name around a football bowl game, such as the Orange Bowl becoming the Federal Express Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl evolving into the Mobil Oil Corp. Cotton Bowl, makes it all seem so downright crass. Obviously, most of the bowl promoters put a "for sale" sign on their good names. They sold out. Heart and soul.
All corporate America needs to do is write a sizable enough check and it buys its way into a bowl game, even if it had nothing to do with the origination or perpetuation of what was once a cherished honor, the mere invitation to participate in such a spectacle. It meant bands playing, tumbling cheerleaders, crowds cheering and spontaneous excitement.
The proliferation of bowls has detracted from the distinction of being asked to play in one. It once was considered a coveted opportunity for a college team to be invited to a gala New Year's Day scrimmage under the palms in an alluring warm-weather environment. Now the product has been cheapened.
To its credit, the premier presentation, the Rose Bowl, which has been around for 76 years, has resisted such tacky intrusions. It's still the Rose Bowl and pays out the most money to its guests, $6.5 million per team. But most of the others have taken in a well-heeled partner who is ambitious to gain name recognition.
The U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Corp. backs the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. John Hancock Financial Services has the John Hancock Bowl (nee Sun Bowl) in El Paso. The Federal Express backs the Orange Bowl in Miami. Mazda Motor of America Inc. has the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. The Eagle Division of Chrysler Motor Corp. has the Aloha Bowl in Honolulu. The California Raisin Advisory Board is affiliated with the Raisin Bowl in Fresno, Calif., and Domino's Pizza backs the Copper Bowl in Tucson.
There are similar links to other bowls. But it would be far more appropriate if the Raisin Board met Domino's Pizza and by the same rationale, Chrysler played Mazda, John Hancock took on USF&G, and Sunkist kicked off against the Florida Citrus Growers with the winner in that one facing Federal Express. Call it their own budget bowl battle of the board rooms.
The way it is now, if the bowl matchups are bad or if the teams put on a miserable show, it's a reflection on the sponsor. It's unfair but a fact of advertising life. Conversely, a sponsor basks in the attention a good game creates.
There's even a new bowl game established this year. Blockbuster Video gets to use its own name in the initial Blockbuster Bowl, which will feature Penn State against Florida State at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami. The Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., has invited Maryland and Louisiana Tech to play in what it known as the Poulan-Weed Eater Independence Bowl.
Payoffs range from $275,000 for each school in the Raisin Bowl to the aforementioned $6.5 million in the Rose Bowl. But 19 bowls, overall, will be paying the grand total of $62.5 million to the contesting colleges and universities in what amounts to a rich gravy bowl. In addition to the Rose, only the All-American Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, Calif., the Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis and the Peach Bowl in Atlanta are playing without corporate affiliations.
And, as something of a negative, there's not an undefeated, untied team in the bunch. Three of them, in fact -- Maryland, Air Force and North Carolina State -- have only modest 6-5 records, which hardly seem worthy of being issued bowl credentials. It used to be, before the glut of bowls, that a mere tie could prevent a team from being invited.
The lowest take-back-to-the-campus purse for a bowl team, apart from the Raisin Bowl, is $600,000. And, in three more years, the contract the NCAA insists upon will escalate to a $750,000 minimum. The corporations partaking of the bowl madness obviously believe it's a good business practice to make a deal.
As positive aspects, they have access to tickets, enabling them to entertain important customers, are projected to a favorable position in whatever community the game is played and, of course, find it advantageous to be identified with college football. They tell themselves they are a part of a grand American institution.
Yes, but almost all bowl games, with few exceptions, will permit sharing a company's name on the ticket if it cares to sell what was once its own proud individuality.