College football's bowl season is here, and with it comes the annual cavalcade of baffling sponsorship deals. For much of college bowls' century-plus history, the postseason games carried humble monikers. The Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Salad Bowl, and Refrigerator Bowl all accentuated just how much time bowl organizers spent in their kitchens frantically looking for something quotidian whose name they could slap on their bowl ("Have we named a game after the blender yet? Does anyone else think "˜Spatula Bowl' has a nice ring to it?") However, selling naming rights has become a hot business since the 1980s, and now most bowls' names are more market-driven than indicative of local color.
In honor of the corporate magic that now permeates almost every bowl, here are a few of our favorite bizarre corporate sponsorship and naming deals:
1. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
If you're like me, you were probably sitting around last Tuesday night mulling the logistics of a hypothetical move to San Diego. If I took a county job, where would I do my banking? I couldn't have been alone in this conundrum. The entire nation was wondering, and if they'd been watching the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, they would have known. Does a local credit union really need the national exposure of sponsoring a bowl game? If you've got a more efficient idea for letting people in Vermont know about the 4.00% APY they could be earning with an average daily balance over $100,000 in the credit union's Money Market Max account, I'd like to hear it.
2. Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Similarly, a lack of brand awareness among the civilian public is among the biggest problems facing the manufacturers of high-end military aircraft. Sure, a company may make some of the very best attack helicopters money can buy, but when John Q. Public needs aerial artillery he's just going to walk into his local arms dealer's and pick out the first thing he sees that's on sale. Credit the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl for trying to break this cycle. The manufacturer of civilian and military helicopters (not to mention tiltrotors) gets a captive audience of football fans and potential government buyers when Air Force plays in the Fort-Worth-based bowl game this year.
3. MPC Computers Bowl/Roady's Humanitarian Bowl
Of course, some football fans would prefer a bowl that affiliates itself with a more sympathetic cause, like kindness or saving puppies. The marketing gurus at MPC Computers and the Humanitarian Bowl are not among them, though. When MPC bought the 2004-2006 naming rights for the game played on the trademark blue "Smurf Turf" of Boise's Bronco Stadium (below), "humanitarian" was dropped and the name was changed to the MPC Computers Bowl. The move spared the company from having its public image sullied by rumors of humanitarianism, thereby saving MPC from constantly being hit up for charitable donations like a bunch of suckers. By the time the bleeding hearts at Roady's Truck Stops acquired the naming rights for last year's game between Fresno State and Georgia Tech, the bowl had already reinstated the offending positive adjective; the game is now known at the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl.
4. galleryfurniture.com Bowl, EV1.net Bowl, Houston Bowl, etc.
Despite computer companies' naming chicanery, it's important to remember that the Internet boom made a plethora of sports advancements possible, particularly convenient fantasy football scoring, round-the-clock access to news and scores, and a host of questionable bowl sponsors. While many of the resulting names were cumbersome, nothing rolls off the tongue quite like the galleryfurniture.com Bowl, which was played in Houston's Astrodome in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, the name was changed to the rather uninspired Houston Bowl before Internet luminaries EV1.net took over title sponsorship from 2003-2005. The bowl then folded. However, this marketing fiasco was nowhere near the worst of Gallery Furniture founder Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale's career; in 1987 a chained lion used in promotions at a flea market owned by the furniture mogul mauled an 8-year-old girl.
5. homepoint.com Music City Bowl at Adelphia Coliseum/Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl at LP Field
At least these sponsors are still corporate entities, though. Fans who still wear their commemorative t-shirts from the 1999 homepoint.com Music City Bowl clash between Kentucky and Syracuse at Nashville's Adelphia Coliseum carry the names of not one, but two defunct companies on their chests. The game's title sponsor, a home furnishings website, is no longer around, and cable giant Adelphia filed for bankruptcy in 2002 after massive internal corruption. Investors in companies associated with the 2008 Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl at LP Field, take heed.