Sun Bowl set the precedent for corporate sponsorship

Published: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 11:27 p.m.

EL PASO, Texas — The corporate ties that placed the name "Tostitos" in front of this year's BCS National Championship game can be traced back to this land of jagged rocks and prickly trees.

El Paso has been home to the Sun Bowl since 1935, and locals like to say it's the second longest continuously running bowl game after the Rose Bowl, which started in 1916. But the Sun Bowl also has another distinction. Played as "the Brut Sun Bowl" on Dec. 29 this year, the Sun Bowl was the first bowl game to ever land a corporate sponsor.

"I remember being shunned by the other bowls when we first got a corporate sponsor," says Bernie Olivas, executive director of the Sun Bowl Association. "But if you're a real sports fan and you want to see (bowl games) continue, that's the way it's got to be."

Since it became the first to take the corporate plunge in 1986, the Sun Bowl has born the names of five different products and corporations. Due to changes in sponsorship and corporate buyouts, the bowl has born the names of John Hancock, Norwest, Wells Fargo, Vitalis and now Brut.

After the Sun Bowl broke the ice in 1986, other bowls followed suit. The tradition-steeped Rose Bowl was a final holdout, opting in 1998 to take on a sponsor. In a last weary attempt of identity preservation, the Rose Bowl continues to place its corporate sponsor's name after its own, calling the game the "Rose Bowl Presented by Citi."

The economic stimulus provided by a bowl has started a bowl bonanza across the country. It seems every city wants one, and many now have them. What began in the 1930s as four bowls all played on Jan. 1 has burgeoned this year into 32 bowls played throughout the holiday season.

In an age when it seems a bowl is on every block, and even lackluster teams can get a postseason date, the bowl system has lost that special status it once had, according to one historian of the college game.

"I feel really that the old traditional feeling of the bowl season has kind of gone by the boards," said Robert M. Ours, author of "Bowl Games: College Football's Greatest Tradition. "Now you see teams that barely get by and get into a bowl. I think the proliferation of the bowls has hurt, and you do hear people joke about the corporate names."

The Sun Bowl, which touts seemingly altruistic beginnings, had economic stimulation as its purpose at its core from the early stages. The bowl actually began as a Kiwanis Club fundraiser and featured high school teams in its first year, according to Sun Bowl news releases. But the Kiwanis Club was also interested in putting El Paso on the map with a football game, and it's a formula city officials say has paid off.

The Sun Bowl had an economic impact of more than $9 million in 1995, according to the most recent analysis conducted. At the behest of the city, another study is being conducted this year to determine how much money the bowl now generates for El Paso.

David Schauer, a senior policy fellow at the University of Texas at El Paso's Institute for Policy and Economic Development, is conducting the study. In addition to the dollars tourists spend on food, drink, lodging and recreation, there are intangible benefits for a city with a televised bowl game, Schauer said.

"Every time they break away and film that blue sky, that means something (economically)," Schauer said.

Recognizing the value of television footage, the Sun Bowl has also been a pioneer in network television partnerships. First airing on CBS in 1986, the bowl has the longest running relationship in postseason college football with any single network. That makes it the second-longest running CBS sporting event televised on CBS. Only The Masters has aired for longer.

The Sun Bowl's corporate affiliation also influences the gift packages it bestows upon teams. As in years past, players for the University of Missouri and Oregon State University received hair dryers this year. The hair dryer is a tip of the hat to Helen of Troy, owner of Brut and numerous hair products, including Vidal Sassoon.

"They can give (the hair dryer) to their girlfriends or their mothers," said Olivas, who has seen 44 straight Sun Bowls in El Paso. "Or they can keep it for themselves."

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