Tampa Bay business leaders find value in partnering with the ReliaQuest Bowl 

The ReliaQuest Bowl, hosted by the Tampa Bay Bowl Association, is one of the most popular bowl games in the United States. 

On New Year’s Day, the nationally televised game brings together teams from the SEC and the Big Ten or ACC. 

The annual Bowl game has an economic impact worth $1.1 billion and has given $3.5 million to charity, since 2016, with an additional $1 million going to charities in the next two years. 

This event brings a lot of attention to the Tampa Bay area during game week, but the work of the Bowl Association is frantic all year long. It orchestrates numerous events that provide a lucrative opportunity for local Tampa Bay businesses to get involved throughout the year. 

The name of the bowl game has changed a few times since it was first played in 1986, but the value to the community has remained steadfast. 

“The Bowl game, with where it stands with the SEC and the Big 10, is likely going to be a pretty good game to take friends and clients to,” says Mike Nursey, managing director middle market for TD Bank. TD Bank has been involved with the Bowl since 2014. “The second part is that the Bowl, itself, is a very good corporate citizen in the community.” 

It’s that community-driven aspect that attracts Tampa Bay area businesses to align with the game and its community-related efforts. 

“On a personal level, I grew up going to the game (then known as the Hall of Fame Bowl) so my memories and connection to the Bowl run deep,” says Mike Sutton, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties. “This bowl was really my first experience with college football and was always a great way to kick off the year with my dad.” 

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco has been partnering with the Bowl since 2019, with the nonprofit receiving charitable funds to advance its mission. Funds and brand awareness provided by the bowl directly helps Sutton and his team continue the mission of Habitat in the Tampa Bay community.  

“The bowl has made a significant impact on our community as well as the schools that play in the bowl,” Sutton says. “Millions of dollars have been donated to the schools playing in the bowl to advance their student-athlete experiences through scholarships and learning.” 

The charitable aspect of the work the Bowl Association does, on behalf of the ReliaQuest Bowl, is exactly why SouthState Bank likes to be involved. 

“The Bowl, and those involved, have a deep-seated passion for bettering our community as evidenced by the many causes that benefit not just from the economic impact of the Bowl, but directly from its outreach and resources,” says Todd Gelbaugh, senior vice president and Tampa area executive for SouthState. “A core value of SouthState Bank is local market leadership. Our business model supports the unique character of the communities we serve and encourages decision making by those closest to the communities they represent – The ReliaQuest Bowl is certainly a leader within our community.” 

Community impact is a common theme heard when asking people why they support the Bowl and get involved. 

“[The Bowl] gives back a lot to the community by way of contributing to nonprofits, which is a misson of SEDCO,” says Brooke Mirenda, CEO of the Sunshine State Economic Development Corp., or SEDCO. “There are a lot of really great events associated with it, too. It’s not a one-off event. It allows for companies like SEDCO to have our business partners, our referral sources and people that we do business with, whether it be clients or, again, our business partners, to attend events and do things out in the community to be able to actually visualize the real impact.” 

This has been the first year Sweetheart Ice Cream, based in Tampa, came on board and sponsored the ReliaQuest Bowl’s Summer Splash event. 

“It’s another way for us to give back,” says Suhail Rifaie, CEO of Sweetheart Ice Cream. 

Jerry Telson, chief operating officer for Sweetheart Ice Cream agrees. “We’re all about being present in the community. Becoming a trusted partner with the ReliaQuest Bowl is a fantastic way for us to have fun while knowing we’re also putting dollars back into charitable organizations and making a positive impact in Tampa Bay.” 

It’s also valuable exposure for businesses. 

“A lot of people don’t know what SEDCO does,” Mirenda says. “When you go to the [Bowl] events, you can talk to other leaders in the community and tell your story of what you do and how you impact the economy  – not only the local economy, but throughout the state of Florida.” 

And of course, don’t overlook that this is a fun partnership that has some pretty cool perks, unique to being associated with a major College Football Bowl. 

“Who doesn’t love the opportunity to meet the head coach of their alma mater before a big game? (We Are.. Penn State!) The events organized throughout the year by the Bowl, for its member companies and individuals, provide a setting to network with fellow supporters and form meaningful connections around a shared passion for the Bowl and the organizations it supports,” Gelbaugh says. 

It’s a well-rounded way to get “bang for your buck” with involvement. 

“One of the significant benefits is the connection to many community leaders who are also passionate about seeing the Bowl game bring fans and supporters to the Tampa Bay region, while positively impacting our community through donations and support,” says Sutton. “Exclusive events like Summer Splash and the contract signing party provide great access to community leaders and networking opportunities like nothing else.” ♦

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