5 Strangest College Bowl Game Sponsors

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- In this final year of the Bowl Championship Series, college bowl sponsorship remains a sliding scale of corporate haves and obscure small-business have nots.

At the top of the pile are the January BCS bowls and their big-money sponsors, including PepsiCo's ( PEP) Tostitos (Fiesta Bowl), Allstate ( ALL) (Sugar Bowl), Vizio (Rose Bowl) and Discover ( DFS) (Orange Bowl and the BCS Championship). Toward the bottom of the pile are the low-budget, mid-December bowls with lesser-known sponsors including Gildan ( GIL) athletic wear for the Dec. 15 New Mexico Bowl, the Idaho Potato Commission for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl the same day and the San Diego County Credit Union for the Dec. 22 Poinsettia Bowl.

It's a simple matter of supply and demand. When bowls such as the Cotton Bowl and Citrus Bowl have decades of history and roughly $4 million to pay out to high-ranked teams, it's a whole lot easier to draw sponsor whales such as AT&T ( T) and Capital One ( COF). When you're the New Orleans Bowl with only $500,000 to give teams and a legacy that started in 2001, it's Ohio shipping company R+L Carriers to the rescue.

In the middle, however, is an odd mishmash of high-profile companies trying to keep their name in customers' faces and little guys looking for their big break. Every so often, this yields a head-scratching bowl name that leaves fans wondering how it happened. We found the five bowl sponsorship examples that didn't quite pass the sniff test, starting with:

Holiday Bowl
Dec. 27
Sponsor: Bridgepoint Education ( BPI)
Location: San Diego
Matchup: Baylor vs. UCLA
Payout: $2.4 million

Think what you will of Baylor and UCLA, but they're universities with solid histories and serious reputations. They have sprawling campuses, honored faculty and a student body that matriculates, graduates and becomes a proud, multigenerational alumni base.

Bridgepoint Education and its for-profit Ashford University and University of the Rockies don't quite match up. These regionally accredited, cash-gulping, mostly online diploma mills (Ashford University has a campus in Clinton, Iowa; University of the Rockies has a building in Colorado Springs, Colo.) clear more than $200 million in profits, but drew an audit from the Department of Education in 2008 that found Bridgepoint was paying recruiters based on enrollments, improperly clinging to $1.1 million in federal funding and sitting on financial aid payments made to students who'd already withdrawn.

That's no small chunk of financial aid, either, as a Senate hearing chaired by Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin found that more than 60% of Bridgepoint students withdraw before completing their programs. Of Bridgepoint's hundreds of millions in profits, more than 86% come from federal funds. While for-profit University of Phoenix's stadium will be empty during this year's bowl season, students and athletes from each of the schools in this bowl should consider themselves fortunate that members of Congress have never had to say the following about their universities:

"In the world of for-profit higher education, spectacular business success is possible despite an equally spectacular record of student failure," Harkin said. "Bridgepoint is a private company, but it is almost entirely dependent upon public funds ... I think this is a scam, an absolute scam."

Gator Bowl
Jan. 1, 2013
Sponsor: Taxslayer.com
Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
Matchup: Northwestern vs. Mississippi State
Payout: $2.5 million

Really? Is this bowl sponsored by 1999, too?

Nothing against "Taxslayer" and its thrash-metal approach to tax and accounting software, but putting a dot-com company name into a sports sponsorship brings back bad memories of sock-puppet pet site pitchmen and job-seeking monsters. We know Taxslayer has to do something to make folks stop thinking of Intuit's ( INTU) TurboTax when they consider filing online, but NASCAR sponsorships and Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving his ride out to the 50-yard-line for the coin toss doesn't exactly scream fiscal prudence.

Besides, there are only two dot-coms sponsoring bowls this year. The other is notorious skin-purveying web host GoDaddy. Unless Taxslayer.com either A) Switches NASCAR sponsorships and starts running Danica Patrick teaser clips or B) Starts playing portions of Slayer's "Reign In Blood" every time a taxpayer completes a subsection, they may want to rethink both their marketing and moniker.

Beef O'Brady's Bowl
Dec. 21
Sponsor: Beef O'Brady's
Location: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Matchup: University of Central Florida vs. Ball State
Payout: $1 million

For two years, more than three-quarters of the country looked at the name of this bowl and said "Who's Beef O'Brady?"

They're still not sure, but it hasn't stopped the Tampa, Fla.-based restaurant chain with the Irish pub theme from cashing in on its hometown bowl. Why shouldn't it? Chick-fil-A, Little Caesar's, Buffalo Wild Wings ( BWLD) and Bloomin Brands' ( BLMN) Outback Steakhouse all host their own bowls, but pay a whole lot more than the $400,000 Beef O'Brady's shelled out for a four-year deal that includes eight commercials during each national broadcast.

Does it pay off? Consider that roughly 45 of Beef O'Brady's 210 locations are in the Tampa/St. Pete area. About 60% of its locations are in Florida. Even if it doesn't gets folks to come in for the bowl, it definitely draws interest home and elsewhere.

"Our website 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," Chief Executive Chris Elliott said earlier this year.

Belk Bowl
Dec. 27
Sponsor: Belk
Location: Charlotte, N.C.
Matchup: Duke vs. Cincinnati
Payout: $1 million

Sometimes you just need somebody, anybody, to put their name on your bowl and pony up some cash. Since the former Queen City Bowl started in 2002, it's had three sponsors.

Former sponsor Meineke Car Care Center left for a bigger bowl in Houston. Continental Tire bailed out entirely. When it came time to pass the hat for this year's bowl in Charlotte, only department store chain Belk answered the call. With its slogan "Modern Southern Style" and flagship stores in North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, Belk just transformed this bowl from a national affair to a regional spectacle.

That Duke is taking part in this bowl with a 6-6 record and being thrown to 9-3 Cincinnati is a stunning testament to just how badly this bowl wanted a North Carolina team on the marquee. With this unbalanced matchup and sponsor that's fairly unknown to the rest of the country, the Belk Bowl is going to need all the local support it can get.

Armed Forces Bowl
Dec. 29
Sponsor: Bell Helicopter ( TXT)
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Matchup: Rice vs. Air Force
Payout: $750,000

As odd a fit as some of the above sponsors are, at least there's potential for some bowl viewers to go out and pay for their product. They might consider filing their returns with Taxslayer.com, shopping at Belk before the game or watching it at Beef O'Brady's.

But Bell Helicopter? The military connection isn't lost on us, but is the average fan watching Rice and Air Force really going to be swayed into spending a few million on a Huey or Osprey? Are local news traffic teams a demographic ripe for exploitation? Will medical transport teams tuning in between organ donations really be swayed?

It all seems unlikely, but at least it's a better deal than defense contractor Northrop Grumman ( NOC) got for its Military Bowl. Not only is its Washington, D.C., bowl being played in crumbling RFK Stadium instead of FedEx ( FDX) Field, but it couldn't even attract a military team after the Army and Navy were deemed ineligible. Bowling Green State vs. San Jose State? That may make fans want to load up on military hardware, but not for the reasons Northrop Grumman intends.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.