Uh-oh, better watch the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas

College football’s Las Vegas Bowl used to be sponsored by the maker of that 50-inch plasma TV in your family room.

This year, it will be brought to you by the company hammering out the dents in your 6-year-old SUV.

Maaco Franchising Inc., the King of Prussia-based chain of auto-body shops, yesterday signed a deal to sponsor the Las Vegas Bowl for the next three years. Financial terms were not disclosed.

It’s the first time Maaco, which was bought by Driven Brands Inc. in October, has sponsored a bowl game. But its Charlotte, N.C.-based parent also owns Meineke Car Care Centers Inc., which sponsors a bowl game that carries Meineke’s name.

Maaco succeeds Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc., which had sponsored the Las Vegas Bowl for five years. But fierce competition in the TV business proved too much for Pioneer, which recently announced it would no longer make plasma TVs.

Maaco jumped at the chance to sponsor a bowl game. (You’ll be forgiven if you didn’t know that the ESPN-owned bowl game pits a team from the Mountain West Conference against one from the Pac-10.)

With new-car sales moribund, companies that keep older models on the road and looking good are benefiting. “People are not buying cars like they used to,” said Eileen Moran, Maaco’s vice president of advertising. “That’s good for our business.”

Maaco was started by entrepreneur Anthony A. Martino in Wilmington in 1972. Today, it has about 500 franchises in the United States and Canada.

Sponsorship for all kinds of events is under pressure this year because of cutbacks at large corporations. Still, sports, including the 34 college bowl games, accounted for 69 percent of $16.6 billion spent by companies to sponsor events in 2008, according to the Chicago consulting firm IEG L.L.C.

To me, if a bowl game played three days before Christmas can still land a title sponsor, maybe things are starting to look up.