Though technically started in 1902 when Michigan steamrolled Stanford 49–0 at the Tournament East-West Football Game in Pasadena, college football bowl games have been consistently played since 1916, with appellations that paid sole homage to such necessities as cotton, oranges, sugar, the sun and, of course, roses.
That stage is shared now. The first slate of this bowl season's games, which kicked off last weekend in Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Boise and New Orleans, celebrated a T-shirt manufacturer, trucking line, motor oil and potatoes.
Though ubiquitous now, the title and presenting sponsorship of these gridiron pageants dates back to 1983, when the Florida Citrus Growers renamed the Tangerine Bowl with their own, broader fruit-category moniker. Of the 35 bowl games to be played through Jan. 6, seven are sponsored by financial services–related businesses, another five by restaurant chains and five by automotive- or transportation-related brands. Two will bear the names of suppliers from the military-industrial complex.
In this testosterone-fueled world of football comes Belk, a 125-year-old family-owned Southern department-store chain with a predominantly female customer base. Not only are they unique in their target demographic but they are also the first general-merchandise retail chain, regional or national, to sponsor a bowl game.
And their game plan must be gaining yardage, as Saturday's Belk Bowl will be the retailer's third iteration and they have recently signed up for at least six more.