Just before 8 a.m. Tuesday, Robbie Marshall was standing on the sidewalk with a pile of bags and two children in tow, waiting for the bus.
“This is our first time going,” said Marshall, surrounded by bags of clothes, snacks and a large, orange cooler packed with drinks.
The Marshalls weren’t trying to get across town. They were among 55 guests, family members and employees of Evans-based TaxSlayer.com boarding a charter bus for Jacksonville, Fla. The group was only a portion of the contingent that traveled to see the Georgia Bulldogs take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. The Bulldogs fell to the ’Huskers 24-19 in Wednesday’s game.
“There’s about 80 already down there,” said Juanita Bell, a TaxSlayer.com employee of 12 years, who was checking off the names of those traveling Tuesday.
“I’m the mama of the group,” she said. “Somebody has got to be the mama.”
This is TaxSlayer.com’s third year as the signature sponsor for the Gator Bowl, according to Darcel Walker, the company’s director of growth. Walker said having Georgia in the game is a big boost for their sponsorship.
“I think it is huge for us,” he said.
While waiting to board the bus, Eddie Simmons said he expected a much bigger crowd at the game this year because of the Georgia fan base. Last year’s game between Mississippi State and Northwestern was lightly attended, he said.
“I expect the stadium will be pretty full,” said Simmons, whose wife, Susan, works for the tax preparation company.
Walker said that TaxSlayer.com has been using sports sponsorships such as the Gator Bowl and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. to build its brand and improve its market share.
“It is really branding, getting your name out there,” he said. ”Our goal is to be No. 1 in online tax preparation.”
It also doesn’t hurt that two of the company’s founders, Jimmy Rhodes and Carl Rhodes, are big Georgia fans, Walker said.
Lara Way is also a Bulldog fan. On her way to attend her first Gator Bowl, she said she has plans to attend many more Georgia games. Way, 17, is a senior at Lakeside High School and will attend the University of Georgia in the fall and be a walk-on for the cross country team.
“I love football,” she said.
Dustin Woods, who provides technical support for TaxSlayer.com, was there with his daughter, Ashlynn, 19, and wife Stacey. This is his second year taking the trip.
“Last year, Dale Jr. came up and hung out with us for a while at the game,” Woods said. He said employees also take part in the Gator Bowl parade.
“We walked the parade and threw out TaxSlayer items to the crowd,” he said. “We were … getting them fired up.”
Bell said the bus has a police escort into the stadium on game day and the TaxSlayer.com crowd has its own VIP area where people can relax and enjoy the game.
“We have a lot of fun,” Bell said. “This is a very family-oriented company. It’s a great place to work.”