SBJ/December 5-11, 2011/In Depth

Gifts continue to flow freely at bowl games

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First-year bowl title sponsor Belk is taking a unique approach to leveraging its bowl game deal, as part of a $70 million marketing plan designed to attract a younger and less regional customer base to the 123-year-old department store brand.

SportsBusiness Journal’s annual review of gifts to bowl game participants found that on Thursday, Dec. 22, the arrival date for each school competing in the Belk Bowl, players from both teams will be taken to Belk’s flagship store in Charlotte’s upscale South Park Mall, for a private shopping spree. Belk is headquartered in Charlotte, where the bowl game will be played Dec. 27 at Bank of America Stadium.

Retailer Belk will take players on a shopping spree as part of its marketing efforts around the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
Upon arrival, players will receive a customized Fossil watch with the Belk Bowl logo imprinted on the face, and a Belk gift card with the game logo printed on the front. Players will be able to shop throughout the store, and Belk will ship for free the items to the address chosen by the players. Additional shipping will cost the player $8 per address. The school representing the Big East Conference will shop first, followed by the ACC team.

The day after Christmas, Belk will target what historically has been its prime demographic, as the coaches’ wives will head to the store for their own five-hour event, beginning with a wine/cheese/champagne reception complete with custom signage, gift cards, lunch, and cosmetic and spa services.

While the on-site shopping trip is not groundbreaking — Best Buy has hosted similar trips for the Champs Sports and Capital One bowl games in Orlando since 2007— Belk’s activation is unique because integration of a bowl title sponsor with the game’s actual participants is rare.

The Outback Bowl in Tampa, for example, receives $1.5 million annually for its title sponsorship. As part of its deal, the steakhouse chain, which is headquartered in Tampa, hosts a private welcome dinner for the participating teams, and provides a $25 restaurant gift certificate in the player gift package. The Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta also includes a restaurant gift card as part of its gift to participating teams.

Among BCS games, the players competing in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio will have the opportunity to choose a Vizio 26-inch LED LCD HDTV or Vizio eight-inch Wi-Fi/Bluetooth tablet, items that will be part of an overall gift suite. Gift suites are rooms hosted by the bowl committee, operated by Carrollton, Texas-based Performance Award Center, and set up at the team hotel or a school campus. Players, coaches and VIPs are given checklists to choose their game memorabilia from a variety of items, including Sony electronics, Trek mountain bikes, Lane recliners, Ogio backpacks and Apple iPods. At least 14 of this year’s 35 bowl games will offer gift suites to players.

The NCAA allows each bowl to award up to $550 worth of gifts to 125 participants per school. Schools can, and almost
Players enjoy a meal prior to the Outback Bowl in Tampa.
Photo by: Brenda Nixon / Outback Bowl
always do, purchase additional packages that they can distribute to participants beyond that 125 limit. In addition, participants can receive awards worth up to $400 from the school and up to $400 from the conference for postseason play, covering both conference title games and any bowl game. Each limit represents an increase of $50 over last year.

Vendors involved in the bowl game niche all say business is booming. Jon Cooperstein, who runs Performance Award Center’s sports division, said schools that participate in the suites at a bowl game often take the concept back to campus and replicate them for other sports, giving vendors new opportunities for revenue.

For example, Oakley, in its 21st year as a provider, is providing products to players in five bowls this season, and has seen a steady trend of growth in its overall college business over the last five years, according to a company spokesman. In the upcoming bowl season, Oakley eyewear also will be included in a VIP gift suite at a sixth bowl.

Timely Watch Co. continues to be a favorite among committee executives, appearing in eight gift packages again this season.

As for Belk, the retailer has 303 stores spread across 16 states, primarily in the Southeast. One quarter of those stores are in North Carolina. The company introduced a new logo last October, the first change since 1967.

Until now, the company’s sports marketing portfolio has been decidedly Southern in flavor. Belk also sponsors the MLB Atlanta Braves, NFL Carolina Panthers, NHL Carolina Hurricanes, the Charlotte-based NASCAR Hall of Fame, the ACC, and athletic programs at Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Alabama, Virginia and West Virginia.

The company hopes this year’s prime-time ESPN telecast will provide the national exposure it desires. Belk has purchased a media buy through ESPN that will air during the network’s annual Bowl Week coverage, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, said Jon Pollack, Belk’s executive vice president of sales promotion, marketing and e-commerce. This will be the first time Belk has made a major national TV buy.

Prior to last year’s game, which aired at noon on New Year’s Eve as the first of four bowl games televised that day, the game had aired at prime time and averaged more than 5.5 million viewers during the previous three years. The bowl game was sponsored then by Meineke Car Care.

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