Standing on the field before the Jan. 2 ReliaQuest Bowl at Raymond James Stadium, Brian Murphy had more butterflies in his stomach than any of the players around him.
“I never thought I’d be nervous about flipping a coin,” said Murphy, ReliaQuest’s founder and CEO. “I didn’t want to mess that up on TV.”
It was a major moment in the national spotlight for ReliaQuest, a Tampa-founded and -based cybersecurity company that this year took over the game’s title sponsorship from another Tampa brand, Outback Steakhouse.
ReliaQuest has been a big-time event sponsor before, particularly at industry trade shows, but also as the official cybersecurity partner of the Lightning, Buccaneers and Boston Celtics. But affixing its name to what is normally a New Year’s Day college bowl game was new territory.
Murphy called the experience “surreal,” but said he was “very happy” with the company’s newfound national exposure.
“We’re a B2B (business-to-business) company, so we make security possible for the largest airlines, the largest hotels, the largest banks around the world,” he said. “Do they watch football? Yes, but what it does for our existing customers is it’s a source of pride. We had 30 different organizations in our customer base show up on game day who just wanted to be a part of it. We brought 100 teammates from around ReliaQuest to the game. It’s an opportunity to draw pride in our own workforce and our own teammates.”
The game — a 19-10 Mississippi State win over Illinois — drew a crowd of 27,892, according to the Tampa Sports Authority, with an average of 2.2 million viewers on ESPN. The company is still digesting the impact of all that media exposure, all the ads and brand mentions and logos. But Murphy said that around the game, web searches for ReliaQuest were up 12 times over what would otherwise be expected.
“You get not just the reach of Illinois and Mississippi State, or the Big 10 and SEC,” he said. “A lot of people just like college football. We’ve gotten outreach from some of our prospects and partners and customers in London and Dublin and throughout the media all across the U.S. It was a lot of fun. So I definitely think it worked to raise awareness.”
The game took place at a busy time for ReliaQuest, which has been valued at more than $1 billion. Murphy got the call with the title sponsorship opportunity while deep in the company’s $160 million acquisition of Digital Specialists Ltd. The company is in the process of moving to a new headquarters in Water Street Tampa’s Thousand & One office building; Murphy said the company expects to be fully moved in this month. An exterior logo sign went up on the building just days before the game.
ReliaQuest inherited the four years remaining on Outback’s title sponsorship. Now that the company will have a full year to plan, rather than six months, Murphy said it can think bigger for 2024.
“You can be a sponsor during a football game or a football season or a hockey season,” he said. “But to be the title sponsor? This is the largest that we’ve done, and a great learning experience for us.”
Times staff writer CT Bowen contributed to this report.