As Auburn lined up for a potential game-winning field goal in the Bowl Championship Series title game in January, ESPN announcer Brent Musburger commented that the kick was “for all the Tostitos.”

The veteran sportscaster received criticism for the impromptu plug, so much so that Frito-Lay, which makes the tortilla chip, publicly stated that the company was not behind it. Still, it could not have complained, as MSNBC business reporter Darren Rovell estimated that Musberger’s free plug was worth $2.5 million in equivalent television advertising.

That is one of the biggest reasons that corporations pay big bucks to serve as title sponsors for sporting events. And two of the most lasting sponsorships in the college bowl business are in the Valley.

Tostitos has sponsored the Fiesta Bowl since 1996 and, once every four years since 2007, the BCS National Championship Game. Tempe-based Insight Enterprises has had its name on the Insight Bowl since ‘97. The Fiesta Bowl operates all three contests.

When Federal Express ended its 21-year relationship with the Orange Bowl in 2010, the Fiesta and Outback (Outback Steakhouse) bowls became the games with the longest continuous sponsor. The Insight is third in sponsor seniority among the 35 bowls.

The sponsorship agreements for both bowls run through the 2013-14 season.

“It’s huge for us,” said Duane Woods, Fiesta Bowl chairman. “The financial piece of it is huge, but having that consistent brand is important to us, Frito-Lay and Insight. When you have a consistent partner, that really matters.

“I’ve seen the bowls that have changed (title sponsors) recently, as they have had to develop a new brand identity. That’s not always easy. Luckily, that’s something we have not had to worry about for a while.”

For the sponsoring companies, the bowls serve as a function to reward employees, woo business clients and get their brand name circulated in football conversation.

Frito-Lay saw the Fiesta as a platform to promote one of its lesser-known brands, Tostitos. Its first game as title sponsor was the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, in which top-ranked Nebraska swamped No. 2 Florida 62-24 to win the national championship.

“While it is our policy not to disclose specific sales data, I can tell you the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl has created a tremendous opportunity to reach consumers,” said Janelle Anderson-Hottinger, Tostitos director of marketing.

“As the title sponsor, we have tremendous visibility throughout the stadium and the events leading up to the game, and opportunities to sample new flavors and other innovations with the game’s built-in crowd of thousands of eager fans. And of course, our on-site presence and messaging carries through to the millions of viewers watching the game at home.”

The bowl visibility has helped Insight blossom from an anonymous direct-market reseller to an information-technology supplier to 170 countries. The bowl game has grown as well, from humble beginnings in Tucson to a record crowd at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe last month.

“It gives us, in one venue, a natural reach, with many components from a marketing perspective,” said Julie Jones, Insight’s vice president of marketing. “There’s a lot of different ways you can maximize the investment. We sell technology to colleges and universities throughout the country, so sponsoring college football is a good way to enhance those relationships.”

ESPN has taken over the sale of marketing and advertising for the Fiesta and the other three BCS games — the Rose, Orange and Sugar bowls — as part of its contract to broadcast the BCS through January 2014. If the network renews its deal, ESPN figures to make the final call on if Tostitos stays a sponsor.

“It’s hard for me to put a finger on the value of sponsor stability,” Woods said. “But as we go out in the community and talk to fans, people know us as the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. I don’t know, if we changed a sponsor, how hard it would be to rebuild that brand equity.”

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