—David Mitchel, Norton Mitchel Marketing

The holiday season is here. ‘Tis the season to see elements of the marketing mix in action.

One of the staples of the holiday season is college football bowl games. There are now 35 bowl games, a quantity many people (myself included) perceive as excessive. As a point of reference, 20 years ago, there were only 18 bowl games. Every bowl game has a corporate sponsor, so with more bowl games, there are more opportunities for corporate sponsorship.

In these days of belt tightening on marketing spends, any brand must have a laser focus on return on investment. Many brands perceive opportunity in using either professional and/or college sports as platforms for developing brand beliefs that will induce purchase. Is sponsoring a college football bowl game a worthy marketing investment?

When I first pondered this question in my mind, I expected that my answer would be similar to the answer I came up with on a similar topic here on DuetsBlog. In February 2010, I explored the effectiveness of Super Bowl ads as a media buy. I ended that article with the following 2 sentences: A brand should not rely upon Super Bowl advertising to grow sales. Sales growth can happen as a result, but only if other elements of the marketing mix are in place and it fits the strategic objectives of the brand. Not all brands will achieve the same level of beneficial results from sponsoring a bowl game.

And now, thinking about bowl sponsorship, a different context, the sentences that I wrote 2 years ago ring true. Certain sponsorships are more meaningful than others. The corporate sponsorship that I think makes the most amount of sense is Tostitos sponsoring the Fiesta Bowl. Tostitos and the Fiesta Bowl have a long standing partnership, dating back to 1996. That is tied for the longest continuous bowl game sponsorship. It is clear that the Tostitos brand views the game as an integral part of their marketing strategy. The alignment between the brand and the game is obvious, as both the Tostitos brand and Fiesta Bowl have strong Southwestern associations. This is likely to drive top of mind brand awareness for Tostitos. When someone is thinking about snacks, this would make purchasing Tostitos a greater possibility. This year’s Fiesta Bowl looks to be a winner as well. The match up between Stanford and Oklahoma State will attract a lot of eyeballs. Stanford has Andrew Luck as their quarterback, and Luck is most likely to be the first pick in the NFL Draft in April. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State nearly had an undefeated regular season.

Other brands and bowl games aren’t quite as lucky. Major bowl games like the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl have had changes in the corporate sponsors over the years. Minor bowl games change sponsors all the time as well. The Micron PC Bowl and Galleryfurniture.com Bowl are notable examples of this. This year’s bowl slate includes corporate sponsors such as Beef O’Brady’s and Bridgepoint Education. It’s not likely that Beef O’Brady’s and Bridgepoint Education will connect as meaningfully as Tostitos.

Jin-Woo Kim of The University of Texas at Arlington took a much more detailed approach to a similar question. In the linked study, he examined the impact of event sponsorship via stock price, focusing his research on the World Cup and the PGA. His conclusions are similar to what my initial thoughts were. Brands can achieve greater awareness via sports sponsorship and this can help drive sales. Ultimately, sports sponsorship is no more than a piece in the larger marketing puzzle. Marketing consists of multiple elements and the mix must work harmoniously together.