What makes for a perfect bowl sponsor?

Why the Pop-Tart Bowl rules, and who else needs to sponsor one:

Good evening, and thanks for your continued support of Extra Points.

I’ll be honest, I was actually planning on taking an extra night off this week…but some news came across my desk this afternoon that simply demanded my immediate attention…something so important, I needed to publish it tonight.

The Cheez-It Bowl, a beloved institution of College Football Weirdo Internet, is no more. It’s a shame to lose one of the sport’s rare perfect sponsorships, but thankfully, naming rights weren’t reverted to some faceless financial services company or regional bank.

Replacing the Cheez-It Bowl? The Pop-Tarts Bowl.

That’s also a really good name for a bowl game! Ask anybody, even if they’re not a college football-Twitter-brain-poisoned weirdo like we are. It feels somehow spiritually correct that Pop-Tarts would be associated with a December Bowl game.

Which got me thinking…what, exactly, makes for a good bowl sponsorship?

Since Sunkist became the first Bowl Game Title Sponsor back in the 1980s, we’ve had almost every kind of company sponsor games, from snack foods to video games to weapons manufacturers to an industrial park out by O’Hare Airport here in Chicago. But clearly, not all of those sponsors evoke the same emotional reactions….nobody is nostalgic for like, the PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl…probably not even the people who played in it. 

So what makes a name good? Surely there’s some sort of axiom, some test…something more specific than Justice Stewart’s ‘I know it when I see it’ method, right?

Suggested Axiom #1: A good bowl game sponsor is something you can buy at a gas station but will probably regret later

Cheez-Its fit this bill perfectly, right? That’s a great snack that’s only going to leave a gazillion crumbs in your car. Same with Pop-Tarts. Same with Tostitos. There are a whole bunch of other snacks lining the shelves of your local 7/11 that feel like spiritually, could absolutely sponsor bowl games that featured 7-5 Big 12 teams playing in late December.

Try it out. The Slim Jims Bowl. The Little Debbie Bowl. The Combos Bowl. The Slurpee Bowl. Hell yeah.

It’s a pretty good rule of thumb, but upon further review, this axiom would leave out plenty of deserving Good Bowl sponsors. My old coworkers at Banner Society, a good college football website that was ultimately destroyed by media executives who thought America loved MSNBC talk shows more than sports, compiled a list ranking of 60+ historical bowl sponsors, from ConAgra Foods to Royal Purple to BattleFrog.

Their top ranking? Bad Boy Mowers. And honestly? It’s pretty hard to disagree with that! This led me to think about another suggested rule of thumb….

Suggested Axiom #2: A good bowl game sponsor is something you could potentially buy at Menards

For those of you who don’t have the good fortune to live in the Midwest, Menards is a massive hardware store chain. But it isn’t just a hardware store…it also sells furniture, processed foods, board games, craft supplies, and large swaths of Direct-To-DVD movies. It’s an everything store.

Can you buy Pop-Tarts at Menards? Sure! You can buy Cheez-Its there too. But it’s also the kind of place where you could buy an expensive ride-on lawnmower, or Duke’s Mayo or Weed Eaters or Cherry Juice, or any number of other fine bowl sponsor-type products.

It’s also easy to imagine many of the other things you can get at Menards (or a Menards-like store) that feel right as bowl sponsors. The Milwaukee Tool Bowl? The Duct Tape Bowl? The Carhartts Bowl?

Shoot, the Menards Bowl? I’m half-convinced Wisconsin lost a few of those before Barry Alvarez got there. That has to be real.

This rule is a good second effort, but I don’t think it’s quite inclusive enough. With a bit of thought, I’m sure you can probably think of a few examples of Good Bowls that one couldn’t find in a massive hardware store. So let me offer a third rule:

Suggested Axiom #3: A good bowl game sponsor is a somewhat downmarket brand or thing that both a 16-year-old boy and a 42-year dad old may want to spend money on

I think this rule includes everything we’ve mentioned so far…teenagers and dads can agree, Pop-Tarts and Lawnmowers-That-Cost-More-Than-Some-Cars and Weed Eaters are all great.

But this demographic would also agree, I think, that Popeyes is great. Or that Beef 'O' Bradys is great. Or Playstations. Or Outback.

Think about this rule when evaluating other hypothetical bowls. This rule would include just about every regional fast food chain, most chain restaurants, video game systems, fireworks companies, sporting goods, and any tool that can be made big, dumb and/or loud. Try it out with a few examples…I think you’ll find it works pretty well!

Is it a perfect rule? No, but it’s a pretty good one I think.

In case these aren’t clear, allow me to also posit a few negative examples.

Suggested Axiom #4: A good bowl game sponsor cannot be depressing

Sorry, but defense contractors and weapons manufacturers cannot, by definition, be good bowl game title sponsors. Neither can obvious scams (Bitcoin Bowl, Advocare), or less obvious scams (too many predatory mortgage companies to count). A company that is clearly going to go out of business in the next nine months (any number of dot com sponsors) is probably too depressing to be funny…something to consider when we see some AI consultancies grab bowl games in the next 24 months.

Suggested Axiom #5: You need to be able to explain what a good bowl game sponsor does in like, eight words, max.

Pop-Tarts sells…Pop-Tarts. There are zero doubts whatsoever as to what Bad Boy Mowers does. But look at the current bowl sponsors. How many of them are consultancies or cloud computing companies or SaaS firms or sell something that you can’t even buy where you live? BORR-ING.

No announcer is gonna go, “This is for all the reverse mortgages” or “This is for all the credit unions.” Save that garbage for LinkedIn. This is college football.

Suggested Axiom #6: A good bowl sponsor cannot be a luxury brand. If you’re sponsoring golf, tennis or F1…you’re probably not a good bowl fit

Look at the kind of companies that are heavily in bed with F1 or the PGA Tour. I see lots of SaaS companies, luxury watches, fancy cars, financial services corporates, etc. Look, those are all fine and good, but does Rolex or Amazon Web Services scream ‘Louisiana Tech vs Kentucky on a Thursday night in El Paso?” Of course not.

It might be a good fit for like, an SMU/Duke bowl game…but that’s moot because I’m probably not watching that one.

I say this with deep love, but most pre Jan 1 bowl games are not premium experiences. These are usually not elite college football games, with blue-blood brands, and first-round NFL talent. These are sickos games. They’re in places like Boise and Shreveport and Mobile. The best sponsors convey that exact attitude…that you’re here for the everyman, the one watching Georgia Southern when you should be out Christmas shopping or spending time with your in-laws.

These are not top-shelf wine experiences. These are Mountain Dew experiences.

And that is not a pejorative in any way. I don’t drink fancy wine, after all….but boy, do I drink Mountain Dew.

So with that…I welcome our new Pop-Tart overlords. I hope both teams throw a combined 13 interceptions during the game and it becomes a messy classic, one befitting of the delicious pastry.

And hey, if enough of you guys pull the trigger and pay for Extra Points subscriptions, we’ll be able to pay to sponsor the New Mexico Bowl. Then maybe we can adjust these rules a little bit.

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