) -- NFL quarterback Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to a huge upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in the wild-card round of playoff games, but the real winners of the game were likely the ad sponsors featured during the well-viewed game.


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scored huge in television ratings because of the media hype surrounding Tebow. Between his tendencies to express his Christian faith on the field and secure late-game victories throughout the season -- including the Sunday night game -- it was the most watched Wild Card game in 24 years, the network says.

Smaller companies can use football sponsorships to boost their bottom lines, as Beef 'O' Brady's has.

Yet it was

Berkshire Hathaway's

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Anheuser-Busch InBev's

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Bud Light,

Weight Watchers

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Doritos -- even Republican candidate Mitt Romney, among other advertisers -- that probably scored highest, given the large audience viewing Tebow's performance.

But what does this mean to small businesses?

Football sponsorships and advertising

can be a good way to promote brand awareness and Web traffic, as well as increase customer and franchisee acquisitions, but a small business can't just agree to promote itself through any old football game; unless they secure a spot as one of the local cable ads, a pro football game is more than likely not the most effective place for small businesses to spend their advertising dollars.

There are other football championships that could be beneficial to a smaller company, though, if a business decides a football sponsorship hits the right targets and goals at all.

Smaller clients must be sure a sponsorship plays in a territory they either own in terms of brand awareness or a territory they plan to expand into, says Bernhard Schroeder, a marketing and advertising veteran and the director of the Entrepreneurial Management Center at San Diego State University.

He emphasizes that smaller companies should be prepared to implement an integrated marketing campaign that complements the sponsorship. "If you just show up once, that has almost no impact. You have to follow it up with some type of sustained program," Schroeder says.

Beef 'O' Brady's

, a 210-restaurant chain in the Southeast, is in its second year, with two years left on its contract, as the title sponsor for what was the

St. Petersburg Bowl

(and is now the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl). Three years ago when the sports bar and restaurant chain was approached by


to buy into a sponsorship, the franchise had to weigh its options before agreeing.

"We took a hard look at it. We wanted it to have a positive impact on the brand image. We wanted to build awareness of the brand. We wanted the franchises to benefit from that awareness, building additional traffic in the restaurants, and naturally we hoped to see the flow of franchise leads increase. We decided to go forward with it for a couple of reasons," says Chris Elliott, Beef 'O' Brady's CEO.

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1. The game is held in St. Petersburg, Fla., not terribly far from Beef 'O' Brady's headquarters in Tampa.

Elliott says about 60% of its locations are in Florida. There are some 45 locations nearby, meaning a significant portion of Beef 'O' Brady's customers and franchisees would likely watch the game.

"If the Bowl game had been in

Jacksonville, Fla. or some other state, we probably would not have done it, but the proximity to our headquarters and large concentration of stores was an efficient way to build brand awareness," Elliott says.

2. Being a title sponsor sends the message that even a little company can act like a big company.

"It makes a small company like us look a lot bigger than we are," Elliott says. "We are now known in places in the country that nobody ever heard of us before, and even internationally."

3. Being sponsor to a game like the St. Petersburg/Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl has immediate advantages.

The company's Web site saw increased traffic on the night of the game as viewers looked to find more information about it. "Our Web site normally gets 21,000 hit a week. We got 21,000 the day of the Beef Bowl -- so we get a whole week's worth of hits in a night," Elliott says.

Being title sponsor isn't cheap. Beef 'O' Brady's paid $400,000 for the position. For that a business also gets tickets to the game, involvement in the its pre-, during and post-game events, plus eight commercial spots during the national broadcast, Elliott says.

Leading up to the game, billboards were placed strategically in the markets of the relevant teams, he adds.

The restaurant chain also put in its own advertising efforts leading up to the game, Elliott says, by promoting through local commercials and direct-mail communications. "In the local community and across all 210 locations we try to get the word out" with watch parties, coupons and specials, he says.

Companies have to weigh the options of the sponsorship in terms of who is watching the game, how many viewers the event might reach and when and where the event takes place.

A Bowl Championship Series game is "going to have a different audience that's bigger versus a game that takes place earlier in the bowl season," says Eric Wright, president and executive director of research for

Joyce Julius & Associates

. And that means paying attention to such things as attendance and the size of the alumni classes coming to watch the game and the temporary economic impact to the city hosting the game, he says.

"Where the bowl games really work nicely for a corporate brand is the ability to have events leading up to the event itself that generate good buzz and a way to elongate your sponsorship window with positive messaging that you can control," Wright adds.

Exact figures for food and beverage sales raised directly from the bowl sponsorship is harder to pin down. Elliott says it depends on which teams play in the game and if Beef 'O' Brady's has locations in the corresponding cities, but when they do have locations in team cities sales are noticeably higher the night of a game.

Franchise leads have also been positive. Beef 'O' Brady's opened its first store in Idaho last year as a direct result of a viewer watching the game. The company also has stores under construction in Arizona and California -- states it never had a presence in until the bowl game sponsorship.

"For us it was a way to get really engaged in the community," Elliott says, but it's also "the one time of the year that every franchisee in our system can benefit from national and even international exposure that the brand gets as being title sponsor."

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to:


To follow Laurie Kulikowski on Twitter, go to:!/LKulikowski


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