SBJ/Dec. 20-26, 2010/This Week's Issue

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman finds a calling in presenting sponsorship for Military Bowl

The company, which reported $34 billion in revenue last year, makes fighter jets, helicopters, ships and other weapons and defense systems for the U.S. government. The company’s electronics are in the F-16 jets that will buzz over RFK Stadium on Dec. 29 just before the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman kicks off.

While the vast majority of bowl sponsors will use the games to market their products or entertain customers, Northrop’s strategy isn’t about raising awareness or hospitality. In fact, the company is not allowed by law to entertain the people who buy its security systems — U.S. armed forces officials.

Instead, Northrop decided to spend in the mid-six figures to sponsor the Military Bowl this year because the game will benefit the USO, the nonprofit group that supports the troops. Northrop’s deal is for three years.

“For us, this is different,” said Randy Belote, Northrop’s vice president of strategic communications. “We might get a little image enhancement from it, but what we’ve tried to do is show a higher purpose and shine the spotlight on the USO.”

Northrop and the bowl, owned by the nonprofit D.C. Bowl Committee and managed by Lagardère Unlimited, worked together to create the Military Bowl title and incorporate USO into the official logo.

“Naming it the Military Bowl made it relevant to D.C., and our national security, so it became a great fit for us,” Belote said.

“If you go to the game, you’ll think it’s the USO Bowl,” said Brooks Downing, Lagardère’s executive vice president for media, events and collegiate.

The strategy behind highlighting the military was part of bowl Chairman Jeff Fried’s vision to elevate the game’s stature. The first two editions in 2008 and ’09 were lightly attended with fewer than 30,000 fans at each game.

“We were too dependent on the teams that were selected,” Fried said.

Wake Forest played Navy in the first game, while Temple and UCLA matched up last year. Maryland and East Carolina will tangle on Dec. 29.

“Because we’re in D.C., and because of the distinctiveness of the bowl, we really thought we could take this to more of a national level,” Fried added.

With a little more than a week to go, the bowl has sold nearly 40,000 tickets, and Fried expects a sellout of the 43,500 seats available. Each school received 10,000 tickets.

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