The title sponsors of the five canceled college football bowl games lost out on $13.7 million of television exposure when their games were called off, according to data calculated by Apex Marketing Group.
For the second straight year, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the bowl season, which ends Monday night when Alabama and Georgia play for the national championship. With a handful of teams unable to play due to outbreaks spurred by the Omicron variant, some bowls scrambled to find replacement teams, allowing for the games to continue and the all-important television broadcasts to air uninterrupted. Others were not so lucky.
Companies pay big money to associate themselves with the college football postseason—title sponsorships to non-New Year’s bowls can range from high six figures to multiple millions—and television exposure is one of the main ways they recoup those investments. Viral mayonnaise baths or strange bowl names can generate valuable exposure for companies, especially when mid-week games routinely draw more than 1 million TV viewers.
For EasyPost (Hawaii Bowl), Barstool Sports (Arizona Bowl), Wasabi (Fenway Bowl), San Diego County Credit Union (Holiday Bowl) and Peraton (Military Bowl), the canceled bowls unraveled comprehensive plans. Some were still able to generate conversation through clever social media, but all are likely sorting through their contracts to figure out what costs can be recouped. Apex calculated that across the five games, the title sponsors each lost out on an average of $2.75 million.
we sent our social guy to Hawai’i to get pictures of our logo on a football field [a thread] pic.twitter.com/rDdf5Wzko9
— easypost (@easypost) December 24, 2021
To calculate the numbers, Apex looked at viewership trends from this year and 2019, the last pre-pandemic bowl season, to estimate an audience size. It also analyzed the location of bowl sponsor branding—jersey patches, graphics, sideline banners—to gauge the brand presence.
The canceled bowls include three that were scheduled to be broadcast by ESPN, one by FOX and one streamed by Barstool. Of all the sponsors, Barstool might be the biggest loser—the company was attempting to blaze new ground by moving the Arizona Bowl off TV entirely, planning to stream the game on its own website. That sponsorship also drew the ire of local partners and on-campus leaders, who bristled at the site’s controversial history of misogyny and cyber bullying.
Title sponsors are just one of the many groups that have to reconcile contracts, commitments and expenses in the wake of these canceled games. There’s also transportation and accommodation (Memphis flew 4,100 miles to Hawaii days before the Hawaii Bowl was canceled), other corporate partners, and of course, network advertising sales.
Make-goods from Fox and ESPN likely won’t be a heavy lift. Thirty-second ads for these games likely averaged $10,000-$14,000, roughly 1/30 of what it cost for non-playoff New Year’s games like the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl. Both networks have plenty of future inventory for comparable (or even more popular) live events to make advertisers whole.
With assistance from Anthony Crupi.