There may have been no more tumultuous year in college athletics than the one we are completing now. Switching conferences, launching networks, dropping sports, Heisman scandals, rising costs, coaching changes and on and on it went. The transient nature of big time college athletics today can really bring questions to brands as to where, how and why they are spending their dollars and how those dollars, especially for the long term, can make an impact in such a volatile environment... an environment that was once perhaps the most stable for a company to pout dollars and get ROI.
On top of all the volatility for brands is the continued debate over the BCS system and the value of secondary bowls to anyone (colleges, television, brands, municipalities) who is not participating in the BCS championship series. In the quest for clarity and value in that morass, a handful of brands and brand partners seem to be coming up with a viable solution to use the college platform, the bowl platform, and the good will of the holiday season to really create an effective win for all involved. One of those brands is Pepsico's Tostitos brand, which will again take its sponsorship of the Fiesta Bowl and give it a global good will spin for all involved.
This year's effort was announced recently, and will bring former bold face name football players and coaches... Jim Kelly, LaVarr Arrington, and Rodney Peete, as well as coaches Bobby Bowden, Gene Stallings and others... to the Persian Gulf for a Tostitos sponsored good will tour and football game, which will involve servicemen and women through the USO, and will be incorporated into all the flash and dash the brand will have for this year's game between the University of Connecticut and the University of Oklahoma. The "Connect to Home Bowl," will be held at an undisclosed military base in the Persian Gulf during the time period when college football bowl games take place back in the United States. The event will have legendary coaches Bowden and Stallings directing teams composed of former college all-stars and active military heroes playing alongside one another as part of a one-of-a-kind flag football competition. Highlights from the event will be captured and shared at halftime during the nationwide broadcast of the 2011 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on ESPN on January 1, 2011 and at www.facebook.com/Tostitos.
For Tostitos, the event connects their activation in the States with a group of consumers, the military, who are very loyal in their spending habits with brands who go the extra mile in assisting those serving. It also is a great win for the USO, who are constantly looking for new ways to create unique experiences for those serving and their families, and connect those experiences directly to those who are here in the States, whether they are on active duty, retired or in the reserves. "Partnering with the USO and bringing the 'Tostitos Connect to Home Bowl' over to the Middle East at a time of year that matters most, helps Tostitos deliver a powerful message," said Sloan Gibson, USO CEO. "It tells our men and women in harms way that they care about them and haven't forgotten them. This kind of partnership gives consumers another great reason to support the brand, beyond traditional means."
For athletes like Jim Kelly someone who grew up, played and still lives in Buffalo, New York, the program provides a unique one of a kind opportunity to give back at a time of year that is all about family, and at a time when during their playing careers their focus was laser-like on the game, and not on much going on outside of it. "I am a Buffolian, my father was in the Navy and my uncles were in the U.S. Army, these are the people sacrificing their lives every day." Kelly said. "We are so blessed to be living in the United States of America and to bring our troops stationed overseas a taste of home around bowl season is going to be a one-of-a-kind experience for me especially."
However the real winner in the program remains the troops, those stationed around the world and serving selflessly at a period of time in the nation's history where volatility is rampant and uncertainty is king. This partnership gives those far away a new connection to home, albeit for a short time, and helps reaffirm their mission and its importance. "The single most important message our troops and their families need to hear is that their service and sacrifice is appreciated," Gibson added. "This kind of a initiative sends exactly that message and thereby helps people make the decision to continue to serve."
In an area where ROI for brands is under constant scrutiny, Tostitos sends a clear message as to how to justify a big time spend and activate not just for today's consumer, but for all those who will look to put discretionary dollars to a brand for the future with programs like this. It is not just marketing, it is cause spending and activation that touches many with a very unique and personal rewards program and with a platform, a major bowl game, that can bring that message to millions in person, online and on television. It is also a pretty nice reminder for those who question the value of college athletics and those participating on its grandest stages that there are athletes who have emerged from those programs who do give back, and will continue to give back, despite the confusing times in sport governance today.
While the program is not an ultimate answer to what ails big time sports today, it is a refreshing win for all involved, and uses the tools that sport can offer to tell a story, grow a brand, and assist those who need assistance and a little lift at a key time of year.