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Buffalo Wild Wings Leverages March Madness to Get Back to Sports Bar Roots

Inspire Brands’ leadership hopes to pull the chicken wing chain away from the fast-casual space by rolling out a series of new activations

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Buffalo Wild Wings is going back to basics this March.

Once a can’t-miss location to catch sporting events, Chief Marketing Officer Seth Freeman believes the company had strayed from its position as a hub to meet friends for big games. Now, fresh off a sale to Inspire Brands, Buffalo Wild Wings is using March Madness to roll out a slew of activations in a campaign to return to its roots.

“March is the first step on a journey toward reclaiming our heritage as a great sports bar,” Freeman said. “The number one thing we are addressing is that we’ve strayed from our essence as a sports bar and have gotten too close to being a fast-casual dining chain.

“That’s not who we are, and that’s not why our guests love coming to our restaurants. We are making strategic decisions to return to our essence.”

READ MORE: Inside Buffalo Wild Wings’ Super Bowl Plans

Inspire Brands acquired Buffalo Wild Wings in February 2018, making up a portfolio including Arby’s, Sonic and Rusty Taco. Buffalo Wild Wings has partnered with the NCAA as the “Official Hangout for NCAA March Madness” for the past seven years, and Freeman said it has remained among the most important platforms for the chicken wing chain.

“Our partnership with the NCAA allows us to tap into the cultural relevance of March Madness in so many ways, whether it’s in-restaurant, in our TV ads, or on social media – the opportunities are endless,” Freeman said.

But the last seven years have brought myriad changes to how, and where, fans watch sports. Thanks to the advent of smartphones, they might not even watch on a TV at all, let alone in a communal setting like a sports bar. Buffalo Wild Wings has had to adjust its marketing accordingly.

This month, the brand has deployed an aggressive ad campaign with three spots taking a “stand against fans watching games under sub-par conditions, like on their phone or in their cubicle or basement,” encouraging a stop at Buffalo Wild Wings. A new menu also hits the tables as well.

On social channels, Freeman promises the brand will be part of active conversations of the games. Buffalo Wild Wings is also partnering with standouts from past NCAA Tournaments including Christian Laettner, Juwan Howard, Charlie Bell and Tyler Hansbrough to appear to targeted fan bases on Instagram.

“If you’re a Duke fan, you’ll probably see Christian Laettner show up in a story telling you that you better get out of the house to watch the Blue Devils game in all its glory at a Buffalo Wild Wings sports bar,” Freeman said.

Perhaps the most brazen activation for March Madness is the “Jewel Stool,” a riff on the 30 percent uptick in vasectomies during the first weekend of the tournament. The stool has “jewel-cooling coils,” a chilled drink holder and a beer light, for when the recovering patient is ready for another cold one.

“We can connect the dots: They specifically schedule their vasectomies so their doctor-ordered R&R coincides with the most exciting sports weekend of the year,” Freeman said. “The Jewel Stools give vasectomy patients a place to recover without sacrificing the viewing experience with their friends.”

Another big piece of the re-positioning of the Buffalo Wild Wings brand is its partnership with DraftKings and tapping into the future potential of sports betting. Last fall, the company partnered with the gaming company to offer a custom fantasy football game exclusively for restaurant guests. Now the two brands partnered for an “unbustable bracket” competition with 500 prizes up for grabs, including free wings for a year and Final Four tickets.

READ MORE: March Madness Wagers Expected To Cross $8.5 Billion According to AGA

March is always circled on Buffalo Wild Wings calendars, and, even without this year’s massive campaign, their 1,200 U.S. locations would likely stay busy. But the company’s leaders also realize there’s no better time to reintroduce those customers to its core essence as a sports bar rather than let the brand continue to drift into a lane it doesn’t want to be in.

“We want to be the place to be so you don’t miss a second of the action,” Freeman said.

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

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NHL Keeps Running On Dunkin’ With New Deal

Dunkin’ became an NHL league-level sponsor in 2017, which was the company’s first-ever national sports league partnership.

Ian Thomas

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NHL Dunkin' Deal
Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Dunkin’ has signed a multi-year extension of its deal with the NHL, continuing its position as the official coffee, donut and breakfast sandwich of the league in the U.S.

The deal, expected to be announced tonight prior to game five of the Stanley Cup Final in Boston, marks the twelfth major partner that the NHL has signed or renewed its deal with in recent months.

Dunkin’ became an NHL league-level sponsor in 2017, which was the company’s first-ever national sports league partnership. Over the course of the last two seasons, the partnership has seen Dunkin’ become one of the NHL’s most active corporate sponsors in terms of its presence at major NHL events, partnerships with local teams, marketing campaigns and other fan-facing efforts.

READ MORE: Following NBA’s Lead, NHL Taps Massive Chinese Market for Fans

NHL Group Vice President of Partnership Marketing Evin Dobson said that since becoming a sponsor, Dunkin’ has ranked at the top or in the top three of the league’s internal metrics regarding fan awareness or engagement of its partners.

Dunkin’ has been front and center this Stanley Cup Final as well, as its national advertising campaign starring Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak has been heavily featured during NBC’s television coverage of the playoffs. The campaign was created by BBDO Worldwide, which was named Dunkin’s new agency of record in April 2018.

“When you have an advertising campaign that even the broadcast talent is talking about on-air, you know you’re creating great fan engagement with what you’re doing,” Dobson said.

Tom Manchester, Dunkin’ U.S. senior vice president of integrated marketing, said much of the deal with the league will be similar to how its current deal is structured – it will continue to hold exclusive rights in those U.S. categories, it will activate around the partnership at NHL league events and it will have a presence across broadcast, digital and social media channels throughout the season, which includes a multi-million dollar partnership with NBC Sports for custom in-game features during games. Dunkin’ will also activate alongside the NHL’s esports tournament, the NHL Gaming World Championship, which will hold its final in Las Vegas later this month.

However, the new deal will see Dunkin’ adding two new local team partnerships in the deal, with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Vegas Golden Knights. Dunkin’ now has 15 NHL team-level deals.

READ MORE: NHL Turns to Corner Ice Placements to Grow On-Ice Ad Revenue

Dunkin’ will also launch a new activation around the league deal ahead of next season, Manchester said, declining to comment further as those plans have only just started.

“Over these last two years, the idea that coffee and espresso is a big part of the hockey world and hockey family’s lives has only been reinforced for us,” Manchester said.

Dunkin’s NHL deal also serves as “the centerpiece” of that outreach to hockey families, Manchester said.

In addition to its league-level NHL deal in 2017, Dunkin’ has also made additional investments into hockey, signing a deal with USA Hockey in 2016 as well as the NWHL in 2015, becoming the women’s league first corporate sponsor.

While both of those deals have since lapsed, Manchester said that on the NWHL front, the company is in talks with the league about renewing it. He noted that Dunkin’ views “women’s hockey as just as important as men’s.”

However, Dunkin’ is not planning on more broadly renewing its partnership with the U.S. governing body. Manchester said that while Dunkin’ had activated heavily around the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team and players like Meghan Duggan during the 2018 Winter Olympics, it had nothing in place with USA Hockey at the moment – although he said Dunkin’ could potentially do something around the team or its players heading into the next Olympic cycle in 2022.

Both Dobson and Manchester declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal, other to say the multi-year deal’s investment level is in line with the previous deal. Fenway Sports Management, who is Dunkin’s sports marketing agency of record, negotiated the deal on behalf of the company.

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Concacaf Unveils First-Ever Women’s Soccer Plan

In August, Concacaf appointed its first-ever head of women’s football – former Canadian women’s national team player Karina LeBlanc.

Ian Thomas

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women's soccer
Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the start of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Concacaf has rolled out its first-ever strategic plan to grow and develop the game of women’s soccer.

In August, the confederation appointed its first-ever head of women’s football – former Canadian women’s national team player Karina LeBlanc.

LeBlanc, who presented the plan in Paris this week to all confederation’s 41 members that includes all of the soccer federations across North and Central America and the Caribbean, said that even with two of the top five ranked women’s soccer teams globally coming from this region in the U.S. and Canadian national teams, there is still an opportunity to do even better.

“The mission we’ve set out on is to improve the lives of women and girls throughout our region through the sport,” LeBlanc said. “We need to change perceptions, grow participation and build a sustainable foundation so that we can do just that.”

Concacaf has designed its strategy to grow the sport of women’s soccer around three main pillars – communicating the importance of women’s soccer and advocating for key issues affecting women, development of the sport and creating pathways to develop and empower players both on and off the field, and through commercial means that will build a self-sustainable growth model for the sport.

LeBlanc said Concacaf’s vision for growing the game somewhat mirrors FIFA’s, who launched its own first-ever global strategy for women’s soccer in October. FIFA is holding a two-day women’s soccer summit in Paris, featuring executives and federation officials from across the globe aiming to “make the most of this new era of women’s football,” which FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in his opening remarks at the summit on Wednesday morning.

Other goals for 2019 set by Concacaf include leveraging the hopeful success of the region’s national teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, creating a women’s coaching mentorship program and develop a commercial strategy around the confederation’s women’s soccer brand, which is called Concacaf W.

“We believe we can hit some of these targets very quickly, but it was important to create something like this plan so that everyone is on the same page,” LeBlanc said. “We all agree it is critical that we create growth and opportunity for women in the sport.”

LeBlanc said some of the long term goals include creating new women’s soccer competitions across the region, assisting in the creation of women’s soccer-specific digital and social channels for all the federations to help inspire fans, and encouraging the launch of more women’s clubs across the region.

READ MORE: Budweiser Signs On as Presenting Partner of Women’s International Champions Cup

“From our standpoint, we are looking at ways to influence clubs to take a leap of faith and if they already have a men’s team, to also have a women’s team,” LeBlanc said. “Our goal is to change the mindset that women’s football is just a cause.

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MLSPA and REP Worldwide Teaming Up to Promote MLS Players

The Major League Soccer Players Association has taken back control of the MLS players’ group licensing rights from the league, signing a new agreement with REP Worldwide to serve as the exclusive partner and strategic advisor for those rights.

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MLS players group licensing rights
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Soccer Players Association has taken back control of the MLS players’ group licensing rights from the league, according to industry sources, signing a new agreement with REP Worldwide to serve as the exclusive partner and strategic advisor for those rights.

The PA had reclaimed those group licensing rights in the league’s first CBA in 2004, but had since licensed them back directly to the league. In the past, MLS has marketed the rights for both the league and the PA, with proceeds of licensing deals split on a percentage basis that varied by category. Now – the PA will take a more direct management in the marketing and administration of those rights, with REP Worldwide as its exclusive partner and advisor.

REP Worldwide – an acronym for Representing Every Player – was launched in 2017 as a first-of-its-kind group licensing representation business offering licensing and brand management services to athlete-driven sports properties. The NFLPA is the majority shareholder of the company, working in collaboration with its founding partners the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA).

This new partnership will see REP Worldwide structure and manage MLSPA licensing partnerships on behalf of the MLS player pool across categories that include digital, apparel, experiential and hard goods, which typically includes things like toys and sports equipment. those MLS group licensing rights cover instances where four or more players appear on a single product or within a brand or product line. That can include the usage of their names, numbers and likenesses, but not team names or logos – rights held by the league.

READ MORE: Budweiser Signs On as Presenting Partner of Women’s International Champions Cup

The aim for the MLSPA is that this new arrangement will not only open new revenue for the MLS player pool, but also serve as a brand builder for all of the players, collectively and individually.

All of the other player associations in the major North American professional sports have control over their group licensing rights, with the NBPA being the last to do so in 2017.

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