For the first ten years, the game was played at Arizona Stadium, on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. In 2000, the bowl’s organizers moved the game to Bank One Ballpark, a baseball-specific stadium, in downtown Phoenix. Finally, in 2006, the game moved to Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University in Tempe to replace the Fiesta Bowl which had moved to University of Phoenix Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.

The game was played under its original name, the Copper Bowl, from 1989 until 1996 when sponsorship and naming rights were assumed by Insight Enterprises. Insight kept the naming rights until 2012, after which restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings bought them. Buffalo Wild Wings declined to renew sponsorship following the 2013 game. However, instead of reassuming the Copper Bowl name, the organizers opted to name the game the Cactus Bowl. The name previously belonged to a Division II postseason all-star game played in Kingsville, Texas beginning in 2001 and continuing until 2011. The Cactus Bowl name was the originally planned name of the game when first conceived. In 2014, TicketCity secured the naming rights for the game.

It has featured teams from the WAC, the Big 12, the old Big East and Pac-10. Starting in 2006, the Insight Bowl began featuring an annual matchup between teams from the Big Ten and the Big 12. Starting in 2014, it will feature a Pac-12/Big-10 matchup.

The 2006 game saw the biggest comeback in NCAA Division I FBS postseason history, as Texas Tech came back from a 38–7 third-quarter deficit to defeat Minnesota 44–41 in overtime.

For the first three playings of the Copper Bowl, TBS carried the game. Beginning in 1992 and continuing until the 2005 playing, the game aired on ESPN. After a four-year hiatus, during which NFL Network carried the game, ESPN regained the rights beginning in 2010.