The Outback Bowl is not Tampa's first bowl game, as the Cigar Bowl was played at old Phillips Field near downtown from 1947–1954. However, the earlier event matched small college teams, so the Outback Bowl was the first major bowl game to be played in the area. (A notable participant in the 1950 Cigar Bowl was Florida State, but the FSU football program had just begun at the time and they were not yet considered a major college team.)
Outback Steakhouse became the game's title sponsor in 1995. Since that game, the Outback Bowl has matched teams from the SEC and the Big Ten. The minimum payout for each participating school is US$3.3 million. In late 2009, the Outback Bowl announced that it has extended its contract with the Big Ten Conference through the 2013 football season and with the Southeastern Conference through the 2014 game. The bowl will continue to invite the third pick of teams from the Big Ten to face the third pick from the SEC (the Outback Bowl and the Cotton Bowl Classic both pick third after the BCS selections and the Capital One Bowl; due to geographical considerations the Outback Bowl selects from the SEC's Eastern Division).
The Outback Bowl is played on New Year's Day unless January 1 falls on a Sunday, in which case it is moved to the following Monday. It is usually the first game to start on a date which is traditionally full of college bowl games, and has kicked off as early as 11AM. ESPN has had television rights to the game since 1993. Under an extension of those rights in 2010, ESPN now broadcasts the game on either ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2, in conjunction with the Capital One Bowl and the Gator Bowl. The contract is through 2014. Between 1988 and 1992, the bowl aired on NBC.