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Beef ‘O’ Brady’s to sponsor bowl game

ST. PETERSBURG Fla. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, the casual-dining chain of more than 260 “family sports pubs,” has spent a significant amount of its marketing budget to be the title sponsor of the St. Petersburg Bowl, with naming rights for the college football game secured for next year.

The game, to take place Saturday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, will be televised nationally on ESPN and will pit the University of Central Florida Knights against the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights.

Because Tampa, Fla.-based Beef ‘O’ Brady inked its sponsorship agreement only very recently, the game will be referred to as the St. Petersburg Bowl, presented by Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, said the chain’s president, Nick Vojnovic. However, next year the game will be called the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.

“We signed the deal a little late, but next year we’ll get the full force of the sponsorship,” Vojnovic said. “We really stepped into the big leagues with this.”

Beef’s is by far the smallest chain with a title sponsorship deal. Other restaurant brands that benefit from eponymous college football bowls are Little Caesars, which also signed its first title sponsorship deal this year, and longtime sponsors Papa John’s, Outback Steakhouse and Chick-fil-A.

“The weak economy opened the door to us, as bowls are being aggressive with their deals for sponsorship,” Vojnovic said, adding that ESPN makes a logical partner for the sports-theme chain, which always has its dozens of flat-screen TVs tuned to the sports network.

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s has spent a large and undisclosed amount of its $5 million marketing budget on the sponsorship deal, the company said.

“That wasn’t an easy decision,” Vojnovic said. “We’ve never done anything like this. But our franchise advisory board recommended we pursue this further when we were approached about it. We have a total budget of about $5 million, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the big guys in casual dining. You can get washed out by Applebee’s and those guys. But a seminal event like this would break through and grab everybody’s attention.”

Vojnovic reached out to executives at Papa John’s and Outback to learn more about the costs and benefits of bowl sponsorship. Papa John’s told him that sales spike the most in markets where the game is played and in the home markets of the competing teams. Beef’s has 55 restaurants in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area and 30 units in Orlando, Fla., home to UCF.

The chain doesn’t have a large presence in Rutgers’ home state of New Jersey, but there’s some brand recognition among the many people from New Jersey and New York who vacation in Florida, Vojnovic said.

“One downside of this I guess is that you really have no guarantee of which teams you get and whether they fit in your [geographic] niche,” he said. “Being a regional player, it’s trickier for us. We’re in 24 states, but mostly in the Southeast, so that limits it a little.”

Still, the national exposure will produce a more than adequate return on investment, he said. Beef’s will get six national commercials during the games broadcast, including one with Vojnovic and the corporate staff wishing viewers happy holidays, and Vojnovic will appear on the Fox Business channel the day before the game.

ESPN estimated that the total value of the sponsorship, from commercials during the game to mentions of the chain on ESPN and in the sports section of every newspaper, is worth about $7 million, Vojnovic said.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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