One final Belk Bowl before new sponsor steps in

The Belk Bowl — which began in Charlotte in 2011, replacing the Meineke Car Care Bowl — will be played for the final time this year, leaving the Charlotte Sports Foundation searching for a new title sponsor. (Chuck Burton / AP Photo)

The relationship between Charlotte and Belk dates back to 1909 when William Henry Belk and his brother John moved first their department store from nearby Monroe to the Queen City.

But the two entities have slowly drifted apart since the Belk brothers’ great-grandchildren sold the company to a New York-based private equity group for $3 billion in 2015.

While Belk’s headquarters remain in Charlotte, the company’s bond with the city has diminished since the sale. Last week, Belk made another break by announcing plans to discontinue its sponsorship of the college football bowl that bears its name.

This year’s game, scheduled for New Year’s Eve, will be the last one known as the Belk Bowl. It won’t be the last postseason event the Charlotte Sports Foundation puts on at Bank of America Stadium, though.

With a new six-year deal with the ACC, SEC and Big Ten signed last summer and a lucrative television contract with ESPN already in place, the bowl will live on with a new title sponsor executive director Danny Morrison is confident will be secured soon.

“With the expansion of our ties to the strongest conferences in college football, the future of our bowl has never looked brighter,” Morrison said “Dating back to 2002, the Charlotte bowl game has historically been in the top tier of all bowls from an attendance and ratings standpoint and we are excited about working with a new title sponsor as we continue to elevate the game on the field and the fan experience surrounding the event.”

This isn’t the first time the Charlotte bowl has changed title sponsors.

Originally certified as the Queen City Bowl in 2002, it was played as the Continental Tire Bowl for its first three years before becoming the Meineke Car Care Bowl in 2004. Belk signed on six years later and helped the game become one of the most popular on the college football postseason schedule beyond the New Year’s Six bowls.

In addition to the obligatory banquets and hospital visits, the bowl has treated its participants to such unique experiences as a NASCAR ride-along at Charlotte Motor Speedway and a $400 shopping spree for each player at Belk’s flagship store in Charlotte’s South Park Mall.

“Belk has been an exceptional partner since signing on to sponsor the first Belk Bowl in 2011,” Morrison said. “This bowl has become a great Charlotte sports tradition that has a significant economic impact on the Charlotte region, and we could not have achieved the success we have enjoyed without Belk’s commitment and the support of our other community partners.”

According to the Sports Business Journal, Belk paid $400,000 for the rights to sponsor the Charlotte game.

Belk CEO Lisa Harper, in a prepared statement, called the Charlotte Sports Foundation a “first-class organization” and said her company “is proud to have been part of (the bowl’s) tradition.”

While the bowl is ending one partnership, another remains strong. ACC spokesperson Amy Yakola said the conference is firmly committed to continuing its relationship with not only Charlotte’s postseason game but also the Sports Foundation’s opening week kickoff event in September that is also included in the title sponsorship package.

Next year’s Charlotte Kickoff game will match Wake Forest against Notre Dame. Teams for the final Belk Bowl later this month will be announced on Sunday.

“The Charlotte-ACC relationship is a long one. It’s stronger now than it’s ever been,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said at the league’s preseason football media event last July. “It’s interesting, with the growth of our league, as it’s expanded, Charlotte has remained sort of the epicenter of the footprint.”