There are two ways to look at ESPN's BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl game:
1. It was a fluke opportunity that augurs all kinds of wacky sponsorship deals.
2. It was a brilliant tactic for cross-promotion and visibility of a niche start-up company, focusing on its core market, and hence is a template for all kinds of future sponsorships.
The first option could lead to plenty of surreal naming rights deals. For example, if Orange S.A. (formerly France Télécom ) becomes another French company that buys U.S. companies, it might get rights to the Orange Orange Bowl or, more weirdly, the Orange Cotton Bowl. And depending on where media goes, Oculus would be a natural sponsor for some future Virtual Reality Fantasy Football Bowl.
More seriously, the BattleFrog deal -- estimated to cost less than $5 million for last week's one-shot sponsorship -- was a last-minute relationship that could pay off on many levels. Long term, it may presage new alliances between legacy media companies, such as ESPN, and fast-rising companies, either digital or simply new.
In the case of ESPN and BattleFrog,a two-year old company that organizes and operates outdoor fitness events, the deal appears to be an ideal match. Not only was the Fiesta Bowl a relative hit (earning a 6.2 rating, up 17% from the 2015 bowl game that occupied a similar early afternoon time slot on New Year's Day), it was also a decent game between two popular teams: "The Ohio State University" (as Tom Wheeler always refers to his alma mater) beat Notre Dame 44-28.
More significantly, BattleFrog already had a small relationship with ESPN, which carried three episodes of the "BattleFrog College Championship" last summer and plans to carry more BattleFrog events this year.
The "BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl" sponsorship fell into place in barely a month, when the previous sponsor, Vizio, chose not to renew its naming rights for the game, according to a detailed report in the Miami Herald, which covers the locally based BattleFrog LLC.
"It's a dream demographic for us," BattleFrog CEO Ramiro Ortiz told the newspaper, citing the bowl game audience of active affluent sports fans, many of them potential participants in future BattleFrog events. The naming rights gave BattleFrog countless branding opportunities. Its logo appeared throughout the pregame show and game as a backdrop for the ESPN commentators and on extensive signage in the Arizona stadium where the game was played -- on the 50-yard line and in the end-zones.
Although ESPN and BattleFrog officials were unavailable for comment, published reports cited the speed with which the companies put together the deal. ESPN was eager to find a sponsor amid the shifting economics of bowl game advertising (under new NCAA procedures), and it was apparently fairly easy to make a deal with a small, hungry privately-held company such as BattleFrog.
More significantly, the deal is a reminder that the new economy is bringing all kinds of unusual advertisers and marketers to the arena (or stadium). Scaled properly, this opens the door for many creative advertising alliances.
Admittedly, there's also the reality that many young companies don't last long. We remember that about a dozen of the dot-com bubble companies (such as Pets.com, e1040.com and e-Stamps.com) that bought high-priced commercials during the 2000 Super Bowl XXXIV didn't survive for more than a couple years.
Nonetheless, last week's ESPN-BattleFrog deal is a reminder that sponsorships can bubble up from unexpected, yet very synergistic, sources. Sponsorships are hardly limited to sports events. Indeed, this alliance reflects the branded relationships that are taking place in the online advertising world. Historically, they have roots in the radio and TV productions of the '30s, '40s and '50s, when a sponsor's name was often part of the title of radio soap operas and TV variety shows ("Kraft Music Hall," "Texaco Star Theater," "Bayer Aspirin's 'Young Widder Brown'" or "American Home Products' 'The Romance of Helen Trent.'")
Although I'm not expecting a "Herman Miller 'Game of Thrones'" or an "ActiveVideo 'Rizzoli & Isles'" branding relationship, the changing media platform offers countless opportunities to play out and pay off.
Just like the Fiesta Bowl.