But the recent announcement that FedEx would not be back as title sponsor of the Orange Bowl is noteworthy for the reason why the 21-year relationship ended.
In a word (or rather four letters), the reason is ESPN.
By all accounts, FedEx was still enjoying a fruitful relationship with the Orange Bowl Committee. As part of the company’s extensive sports sponsorship portfolio, the game and its attendant events had long been — and continued to be — an important hospitality venue that the FedEx sales force found to be critical in developing relationships with key customers and prospects.
What changed was ESPN’s entry into the mix as the title sponsorship rights holder and its packaging of those rights together with a season-long college football platform that FedEx did not need.
The sponsorship is no longer a sponsorship.
It is a component of a media buy. On its face, this is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. ESPN is not evil for structuring its deal this way; having shelled out $495 million for broadcast and other rights, it is entitled to do whatever it thinks is best in earning that money back for Disney shareholders.
But a longtime corporate partner that was still earning a positive return from its relationship has been forced to exit a sponsorship before it would have liked. And a replacement sponsor—which more than likely is interested in the media buy and not the naming rights—will end up with a sponsorship benefits package it probably won’t know what to do with.
I have a hard time seeing that as a positive development for anyone but the media company in the middle.