Has the influx of games diluted the true meaning of the college bowl brand?

January 28, 2014

Let me first confess that I put myself in the “average” sports fan category versus the extreme sports fan who knows a lot more than me about all sports, players and stats. I do enjoy watching baseball, football and hockey on television mostly to bond with my son and to foster camaraderie with friends.

For many years (25+ or so now), my biggest enjoyment has been attending Penn State (my wife is an alum) and Rutgers (my alma mater) football games with family and friends. Given my PSU and Rutgers connections 2014 promises to be a highlight NCAA football season for me since these two schools will once again play each other as part of Rutgers admission into the Big 10 (or is the Big 11 or Big 12? We’ll save that for another blog.)

In recent years, the term "bowl" has become synonymous with any major football event and is generally associated with collegiate football. At the end of each regular college football season, my friends and I usually can’t wait for the NCAA to announce the bowl selections to see which colleges will be playing against each other and in which bowl. Of course we always had aspirations of our favorite team(s) either making the Rose, Cotton, Sugar and/or Orange bowls because these brands were the “top of the line,” best in class, and the gold standard. For the past 16 years, the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) brand and its National Championship game were also held in high esteem. For college football players and spectators, football championships –particularly those within the NCAA – were always thought to be special; somewhat elite. These bowl games represented the mini Super Bowls of college football in that they guaranteed to draw huge crowds, attract high-level TV advertisers and sponsors and deliver a memorable experience to all who were connected in one form or another. This is when, in my opinion, the college bowl brand still had stature, credibility and commanded a certain amount of respect. It was the culmination of the college football season. However, all of this has been lost now that the concept of college bowl games has exceeded, in my opinion, what is remotely acceptable for a brand to extend itself.

Proof in point: the number of bowl games from pre-Christmas to post New Year’s has increased significantly over the years. For the 2013 college football season alone, I counted 35 total bowl games, including the BCS National Championship game.  It all started with the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on December 21 and ended with the BCS National Championship on January 6 with 33 other games taking place within 17 days. We now have the likeness of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Fight Hunger, Bell Helicopter Armed Forces, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chick-fil-A, TaxSlayer.com Gator, Go Daddy and too many others to mention here. For a complete Bowl listing please visit: College & Pro Football Schedule. Does anyone have any interest in forming the Ty-D Bowl where the two worst teams would play against each other?

Even the well known, heritage-rich brands such as the Fiesta, Sugar, Cotton and Orange Bowls couldn't survive on their own merit and sold out to sponsorships. I do realize that sponsorships are necessary for revenue, but really the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Allstate Sugar Bowl, AT&T Cotton Bowl and the Discover Orange Bowl? At least Discover’s bowl sponsorship builds brand equity in that it is strongly linked to the brand’s core color – orange.

To be completely fair January 6, 2014 was the end of postseason college football, as we have known it since 1998. The BCS will be replaced by a four-team playoff simply known as the College Football Playoff (CFP). Even with this new playoff structure, there will still be 30 plus bowl games on the schedule. Therefore, in order for the CFP to build its brand, like any other brand, it must have a platform complete with a core promise, positioning and key attributes – a clear way to separate itself from all the other bowl games.

Will 30 or so other bowl games prevent the CFP from living up to its core promise of the best four teams playing against one another? Will the CFP manage to stand out from the competition and establish a unique point of difference? Soon we will have enough bowl games for every school to be in a bowl, defeating the purpose of what a bowl game really stands for – the best of the best. What do you think? Which Bowl brand do you feel has the most equity and why?

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