Published Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | 12:03 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | 4:01 p.m.
When Pioneer recently got out of the television business, the Las Vegas Bowl went searching for a new sponsor, one with which it could hopefully land a multi-year pact.
Despite the rough state of the economy, executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy & Co. found what they were looking for.
Kunzer-Murphy on Tuesday unveiled the new sponsor and branding for the bowl game, which next season will see its 19th matchup.
But don't go calling it the Las Vegas Bowl. With a shiny new logo, the meeting between the Mountain West and Pac-10 will be labeled the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas.
"It's always going to be the Las Vegas Bowl," she said. "I think for a sponsor to step up in these days and do it, we're more than happy. They want to brand Maaco, which we understand, with Las Vegas. So it's an easy decision.
"It's a different concept after 18 years, but you know what? I think those things happen, and that's OK. For us to be able to announce today a three-year deal with a company as strong as Maaco is, it's a real plus for the bowl game."
Maaco, known for collision repair and auto painting, was recently acquired by Meineke. The deal also includes a fourth-year option for each party.
That made Maaco a natural fit for the Las Vegas Bowl, not only because of its desire to expand the brand nationally, but because Meineke knows the bowl business already. The 4-year-old Meineke Car Care Bowl has already proven to be a success, pitting the ACC against the Big East.
This year, West Virginia edged North Carolina in a thriller in Charlotte, 31-30.
The folks at Maaco, though, also made sure they were getting their money's worth in return for locking up a three-year commitment at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Most of that return came in the form of the bowl's name.
"We were pretty insistent, but we were pleased to be co-branded with Las Vegas," said Ken walker, CEO and Chairman of Maaco Franchising, Inc., who was on-hand Tuesday at Bali Hai Golf Club. "The fact is, if we were gonna be a title sponsor here or with any of the others that were available, we wanted to make sure that in the press and on TV, that it didn't become the Las Vegas Bowl. I was paying too much money for it to be viewed as the Las Vegas Bowl two-thirds of the time. So moving the name and 'Las Vegas' was good enough."
The 'Las Vegas' name wasn't the only thing that got moved.
Also getting a bump was the day the game will take place.
Last year's game -- a 31-21 Arizona victory over BYU -- took place on Saturday, Dec. 20.
The bowl got a stroke of luck in drawing the 'Cats, as the U of A men's basketball squad took on UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center earlier in the afternoon. However, the bowl game was also competing for a national TV audience with the likes of the Dallas Cowboys.
With the game now taking place on a Tuesday -- Dec. 22 this year -- the Maaco Bowl will have the ESPN stage all to itself.
The mid-week format also makes travel to the game more convenient for the teams participating, given that final exams typically take place just before the Christmas break.
As for the conferences tied into the Maaco Bowl, talks are already underway in attempting to extend the pacts that the Mountain West and Pac-10 have with the game.
The current deal -- which runs through this upcoming season -- gives the bowl committee the first choice of MWC teams unless one of them is headed to the BCS, as was the case last season with undefeated Utah. The bowl hopes to still have some flexibility between the four and five spots in the Pac-10.
"I've talked with the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12, and everyone's trying to keep their teams regional because of what's going on in the country," Kunzer-Murphy said. "For us to stay with those two -- we hope they like us, we like them -- it's been a winner, there's no reason to change."
Also staying the same, for now, at least will be the bowl game's payout, which is $1 million to each participating school.
Still, change is a small price to pay for some security. Five years with Pioneer included five one-year contracts in terms of sponsorship for the bowl game.
Now, the bowl committee gets what it wants, while Maaco and Meineke get what they want.
"Las Vegas is a national city -- it's one of those cities people look at on a national basis," Walker said. "This is our first venture into national advertising. Even though we advertise nationally, we do it one TV station at a time.
"We understand what a bowl can bring to a brand. It puts you on a differnt stage, puts you on a different level. So we already understood that. We didn't need a test period."