Beef O'Brady Gets Big Return on Bowl Game


Yes, it's that time of year.

No, not time for fruitcakes, high credit card balances and too much red wine.

It's college football bowl season. Thirty-five games, ranging from the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl to the Discover Financial BCS National Championship.

Wide receiver Aaron Dobson #3 of the Marshall Thundering runs 39 yards with a pass in the fourth quarter for a touchdown against the Florida International University Panthers December 20, 2011 in the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida.
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The cost to sponsor a bowl game ranges from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars.

What does it get you? Naming rights. Commercials. A national audience.

The days of the Cotton, Sugar and Orange Bowl are long gone. (Read More: 'Johnny Football' Manziel: No Plans to Turn Pro)

Say hello to the Taxslayer Bowl, Bell Helicopter Bowl, R L Carriers Bowl, the AdvoCare V100 ... and then, of course, my favorite: the Beef O'Brady Bowl.

If you are from Vermont or Oregon, the only way you probably know the name is through their sponsorship of the bowl game in Tampa, Florida. "In the beginning, many people didn't know what Beef O'Brady was," admitted CEO Chris Elliott. "Time Magazine rated us the No. 1 craziest bowl name. We took a lot of pride in that and got a kick out of that ... for us, the exposure was a good thing, not a bad thing." (Read More: Alabama vs. Notre Dame? That'll Be $2,400)

Beef O'Brady is a mid-sized chain of sports-themed pubs with more than 200 restaurants, concentrated in the Southeast.

Reportedly, it's buy-in to sponsor the bowl is $400,000 a year for four years. In exchange, the company received the naming rights — plus eight commercials during the ESPN broadcast.

And the game is right in their backyard.

"We started in Brandon, Florida 25 years ago, and 65 percent of our locations are in Florida," Elliott said. "It made a lot of sense for us just because of the pure locale."

In terms of return on investment, it all depends on the bowl. Discover sponsors the national championship. Its media mentions not only will be frequent but also will be in front of large, captive audiences.

For Beef O'Brady it still gets a national audience on ESPN, but the audience will be much smaller. It has two good teams involved — Central Florida and Ball State — but they are second-tier names. So, the ultimate judge on ROI (Return on Investment) is when you put it all together.

"We get a really good ROI for the bowl," Elliott said. "Each year, after the bowl, ESPN conducts a media analysis, and that information tells us we are getting a 25 to 1 return on our investment." (Read More: College Football: Why Pressure to Win Is So Big)

That means, according to the study, Beef O'Brady would have to spend 25 times what it spends on the bowl game in order to get the same level of media exposure. "We look at the opportunity cost. "if we took the same amount of money and tried to spend it another way, could we get the same result? The answer is no," Elliot explained.

Beef O'Brady sees a huge spike in terms of Google searches. More people come into the restaurants, and there's more interest in franchising. For example, last year's game attracted franchise inquiries from all over the world, including Kuwait.

"It makes Beef O'Brady look like a much bigger company than what it is," Elliott said.

The Beef O'Brady Bowl will be played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida on Friday night, December 21.

—By CNBC's Brian Shactman; Follow him on Twitter: @bshactman