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Beef O'Brady's Uses Bowl To Get National Attention

Monday, 21 Dec 2009 | 12:25 PM ET

Around kickoff time of the St. Petersburg Bowl this past Saturday night, searches for “Beef O’Brady’s” hit the “volcanic” level on Google. By halftime, it was the search engine’s third hottest search term.

When the restaurant chain agreed to become the presenting sponsor of the bowl game less than two weeks before, executives were dreaming of this exact scenario.

“We wanted people to ask, ‘Beef O’ Who?’” said the chain’s president Nick Vojnovic. “That was the purpose.”

Although the restaurant chain has 260 restaurants, it is not known nationally because restaurants are so concentrated in the Southeast (140 are in Florida alone). But Vojnovic said that the sponsorship became economical enough that it made sense to spend part of the company’s $5 million marketing budget on putting its name on the bowl game.

“You can’t use the same marketing playbook you used five years ago,” Vojnovic said. “We’ve typically advertised only in the small local markets, but we wanted to cut through the clutter.”

When reached Monday, Vojnovic was ecstatic. Whether more people will visit Beef O’Brady’s in the future, he couldn’t tell yet, but he did say the chain already got its bang for its buck.

“There definitely was a huge spike in terms of awareness of who we are,” Vojnovic said.

Vojnovic said the contract calls for one more year –- next year it will be called the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl –- and then the chain has a three-year option to continue sponsoring the ESPN-owned property.

“We’re probably one of the smallest companies to sponsor a bowl,” said Vojnovic, who says the chain pulls in about $250 million in revenue. “But we know that fewer people are asking today, ‘What the heck is Beef O’Brady’s?’”

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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