Art for the new DirecTV Holiday Bowl sponsorship. Art for the new DirecTV Holiday Bowl sponsorship. (DirecTV.)

While DirecTV no longer has their biggest sports deal with NFL Sunday Ticket, they’re still emphasizing sports as a focus in a number of areas. That includes both sports content deals and sports sponsorships. And their latest one is a bowl sponsorship.

DirecTV executives and Holiday Bowl executives announced Thursday at a press conference on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum in San Diego that DirecTV is the new sponsor of that bowl. The bowl, which has affiliations with the Pac-12 and the ACC, will now be called the DirecTV Holiday Bowl.

This year, the DirecTV Holiday Bowl will kick off at 8 p.m. ET on Dec. 27. It will be broadcast on Fox. And this deal also comes with some sponsorship benefits across bowl operator Sports San Diego’s other properties, including the Rady Children’s Invitational Thanksgiving men’s college basketball tournament. Here’s more on that from a release:

“We are sincerely so excited and proud to announce this partnership with DIRECTV,” said Dennis DuBard, 2023/24 president of Sports San Diego, the group that produces the annual Holiday Bowl game. “DIRECTV is a respected industry leader, a sports powerhouse and an incredible brand. We look forward to working closely with their team and presenting yet another amazing San Diego bowl experience for the student-athletes, bands, spirit squads, and visiting and local fans alike. We can’t wait for December 27.”

…“The DIRECTV Holiday Bowl is a powerful moment to celebrate the achievements of two of the top college football teams in the country,” said Vince Torres, chief marketing officer at DIRECTV. “We look forward to showcasing DIRECTV as the destination for all your favorite sports – with or without a satellite – throughout the bowl season and in the exciting matchup at Petco Park on Dec. 27.” 

…In addition to the DIRECTV Holiday Bowl, Sports San Diego also owns and operates the Rady Children’s Invitational, a four-team men’s college basketball tournament that tips off this Thanksgiving at UC San Diego’s Lion Tree Arena. The inaugural tournament field features Iowa, Oklahoma, Seton Hall and USC. Each game will be televised on either FOX or FS1. Sports San Diego also produces the California State Games and serves as San Diego’s regional sports commission. DIRECTV will receive benefits across each of Sports San Diego’s platforms. 

This is part of a larger picture of the evolution of DirecTV’s sports sponsorship. While they had been the exclusive broadcaster of the NFL Sunday Ticket package since its 1994 inception, there was talk they wouldn’t make a strong bid to renew it two years back, and it became clear pretty early in the Sunday Ticket bidding last year that they weren’t going to retain it. And with that package eventually going to late bidding entrant Google/YouTube for $2.5 billion a year, a full billion above the $1.5 billion DirecTV was paying under the old deal, they seem pretty happy they’re not paying that price. DirecTV chief content officer Rob Thun recently said at a LA Sports Innovation Conference panel moderated by John Ourand of Sports Business Journal that they’d be losing even more money on the new deal:

This is the first year DirecTV hasn’t carried “NFL Sunday Ticket” since 1994, so I asked Thun how strange it’s been for the satellite company to not carry the out-of-market package this fall.

“Well, we’re a billion dollars richer,” he said, referring to the amount of money DirecTV lost on the package each year.

Before YouTube TV signed a deal to carry “NFL Sunday Ticket” last December, Thun said people would advocate for the package internally. He always gave the same answer.

“Well, let me ask you a question. ‘Do you like losing a billion dollars a year?’ That was the old deal. The new deal, it’d be a billion and a half,” he said. “It didn’t make sense for our platform because … We’re losing subs because we’re a pure-play video provider and the price of content continues to escalate beyond what people are willing to pay. We were very data-driven about whether or not to pursue those rights. We didn’t even engage frankly in the conversation. The only piece that we engaged upon was getting the commercial rights.”

As noted there, DirecTV did strike a deal to continue to sell Sunday Ticket to businesses, including bars and restaurants. They also signed deal to continue to sell it to individuals in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And they came to a renewal deal for NFL Network and RedZone (with expansion of those to DirecTV Stream and AT&T U-verse) this summer. They’ve also launched an on-screen Sports Central hub, and they’ve played up that and their Sports Pack channel offering in much of their recent sports marketing, including with “Overly Direct Spokesperson” Travis Kelce (who they signed before he got all the buzz around his relationship with Taylor Swift, and who they had star in ads that annoyed the NFL).

DirecTV has done a lot of other things on the sports marketing side as well, especially with sponsorships. They presented a six-match Soccer Champions Tour this summer (featuring Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan and more), they signed a sponsorship deal with the Big Ten, and they signed a presenting sponsorship deal for the “Battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh” game between USC and Notre Dame. And now, they’ve picked up this Holiday Bowl sponsorship, further emphasizing how much they’re still trying to market their service to sports fans.

The Holiday Bowl was founded in 1978 and initially featured a Western Athletic Conference (WAC) team against an at-large team. It maintained its WAC ties through 1997, albeit with a split beginning in 1995. The Pac-12 (then the Pac-10) came in as an alternate in 1995 and took over a full affiliation in 1998. The Big Ten was associated with the bowl in the other slot from 1991-94, with the Big 12 (then the Big 8) taking that slot over beginning in 1995 and holding it through 2013, when the Big Ten came back in.

In 2020, the Holiday Bowl replaced the Big Ten tie-in with an ACC tie-in. But the bowl was not played in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. (It was set to be played in 2021, but UCLA backed out five hours before kickoff after three defensive linemen tested positive for COVID-19; the bowl is currently suing the Pac-12 and the UC Board of Regents over compensation there.) The bowl returned last year, with Oregon beating UNC 28-27 in a wild comeback.

Previous Holiday Bowl title sponsorships have included SeaWorld (1986–1990), Thrifty Car Rental (1991–1994), Plymouth (1995–1997), Culligan (1998–2001), Pacific Life Insurance Company (2002–2009), Bridgepoint Education (2010–2012), National University (2013–2014), National Funding (2015–2016), and San Diego County Credit Union (2017–2022). Now, DirecTV has been added to that list. We’ll see how this sponsorship works out for them, and how it fits with their overall sports plans.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.