(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 4) Coming soon to ESPN: Idaho potatoes.
The former Humanitarian Bowl was renamed The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl when the Idaho Potato Commission signed a six-year naming rights and sponsorship deal July 27.
The Dec. 17 game pits teams from the Western Athletic and Mid-American conferences against each other at Boise State University’s Bronco Stadium.
“It provides the perfect national showcase for our brand in front of more than 2 million ESPN viewers,” said Frank Muir, commission president.
All nine commissioners approved the sponsorship deal. Terms were not disclosed.
“I was privy to some of the contracts that other bowl games of similar or bigger size have, and I’m very satisfied with our contract,” Muir said. “We negotiated well on this. We reallocated funds within our current budget.”
Negotiations happened quickly, Muir said, with the deal taking about eight weeks from start to finish. He thinks it will pay off for Idaho’s $3 billion potato industry.
“The timing is perfect,” he said. “It leads the bowl game season and it’s right at the high point of holiday consumption. Everybody’s gone two weeks without a game and they’re chomping at the bit. Christmas parties are the ideal time for people to load up on Idaho potatoes.”
The teams’ two conferences represent four of the top five potato-consuming states: New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Regional marketing is part of the plan.
The commission has an ongoing relationship with the Boise State and University of Idaho football programs. Last week, a commercial was shot with fitness celebrity spokeswoman Denise Austin that will air Sept. 3 during the season-opening Boise State-Georgia game, and again during the bowl game.
Publicity measures during the football season include putting a potato logo onto the turf Nov. 12 when Boise State plays Texas Christian University. Muir said it’s not decided yet whether that will be the bowl or commission logos.
At the Dec. 17 bowl game, the commission plans multiple TV spots.
“Do we play the same ones over, run our best from the past, or do we create some very unique ones for the game?” Muir said. “That’s all in discussion right now. We’re looking at some crazy ideas.”
One idea from the past, Muir said, drew 12 million hits on YouTube. It featured Dawn Wells, an actress from the TV series Gilligan’s Island skinning a potato in a novel fashion, without a peeler.
“It could be something like that,” he said.
Bowl management handled negotiations with the NCAA.
“This is like old school,” Muir said. “It takes people back to when games were named Cotton, Orange and Rose and you didn’t have a big title sponsor on top of that. In this case, the title sponsor is the commodity.”
The unveiling of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl also prompted a lot of jokes.
“Everybody’s making potato puns,” Muir said. “We love it. Make all the puns you want, because it only makes you want to go out and have a baked potato or some french fries. The potato looks humble and that leads to all the jokes, but they’re loaded with nutrition and energy and football players love to eat them.”
Among the jokes:
“Everybody said the headline after the first bowl game would be, ‘Team A mashes Team B,’” Muir said.
“I threw out my own potato pun,” he said. “You have to have a thick skin to be in the potato business.”
Many speculated in a joking fashion about who ESPN’s first commen-taters would be.
“As I travel across the country and even throughout the world, as soon as I say I am from Idaho, they say, ‘potato,’ and always with a smile,” Muir said. “It’s not a smirk.”
The bowl game also makes a great lead-in for the commission’s 75th anniversary year in 2012, he said.
The bowl game’s website, www.famousidahopotatobowl.com, is under construction; tickets will be available starting Oct. 1 at Idahotickets.com and the Bronco Stadium ticket office. Information is available at the Famous Idaho Bowl office at 208-424-1011.