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Super Bowl Presents Major Opportunity for Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut’s Super Bowl plans include everything from a fleet of branded delivery vehicles to a renamed restaurant.

Adam White

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Photo via Pizza Hut

It’s Pizza Hut Hut, not Pizza Hut.

That’s of course if you are visiting the Pizza Hut location in Atlanta that was renamed Pizza Hut Hut ahead of Super Bowl LIII.

In the company’s first year as the official pizza sponsor of the NFL, Pizza Hut leveraged everything from athletes like Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to technology like AR to turn its pizza boxes into cornhole boards.

While it may seem like the brand did a lot of different things from an activation standpoint, the moves were made to take advantage of the first year of its deal with the NFL — a coming-out party of sorts.

With the NFL partnership, we really had one goal of focusing on the fan and making them the center of everything we do,” said Marianne Radley, chief brand officer at Pizza Hut. “In our first year as the official pizza sponsor of the NFL, we wanted to be able to shout our relationship from the rooftops. It will all culminate Super Bowl Sunday with everything we are doing on the ground in Atlanta and across the country for our customers.”

Now, with the company’s first Super Bowl ahead of them, the theme of “overdelivering” is on everyone’s mind.

By all accounts, Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year for Pizza Hut. This year, it’s even bigger.

How big is big? Pizza Hut has been having Super Bowl Sunday prep rallies in its stores to get its team members ready for Sunday.

A Deal 14 Hours in the Making

Fourteen hours in February were all that was needed to change how this year’s NFL season would go for the largest pizza chain in America.

Shortly after Papa John’s and the NFL decided to make a “mutual decision to shift from their official league sponsorship to a focus on partnerships with 22 local NFL teams,” the league announced that it was teaming up with Pizza Hut.

Signing the deal in February of 2018, Pizza Hut had six weeks to ramp up for the 2018 NFL Draft, a task that was as challenging as it was exciting according to Radley.

“I’ve worked on a lot of experiential marketing programs and partnerships in my career, but this one, in particular, was one that I’m so proud of our team for sprinting so quickly and collaborating so well with the NFL to be able to pull it off.”

From there, the brand dipped its toes into deals with teams, locking in four teams, three of which made the playoffs, and one, the Rams, who will take the field this coming Sunday with a chance to win it all.

Outside of league and team deals, Pizza Hut turned to players like Todd Gurley, Tyler Lockett, and JuJu Smith-Schuster to bring the brand message to life from a player perspective.

“We felt that the players we signed represented the excitement and passion of football as well as a love of life and joy that creates magical moments,” added Radley. “Pizza Hut as a brand is about fostering community and that’s what these players helped us do. It was a really nice fit.”

Big Plans for the Big Game

With over 100 million people tuned into the game and hundreds of thousands on the ground in Atlanta, Pizza Hut wanted to make sure it didn’t miss a beat.

In Atlanta alone, the company rebranded one of its stores, is rolling out a fleet of branded delivery vehicles, and will double-down on its use of AR with an activation at the Super Bowl Experience that will have people dancing.

“Throughout the year, we showcased Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster in our commercials. We decided we were going to bring their personalities to life via AR,” mentioned Radley. “Thanks to the technology, fans will have the opportunity to dance alongside both of the players. The dancing will be recorded and the fans will get a takeaway to share on social media.”

While Radley even admits that they took a big bite of the apple when it came to incorporating so many different marketing elements, the goal was to be as inclusive as possible.

“We looked at it (the Super Bowl activation) and said nothing is impossible,” added Radley. “With an opportunity to connect our brand with fans during a moment that matters, we really wanted to take an inclusive approach to make sure we were resonating with as many consumers as possible. We wanted messages that would radiate with humor, connect the fans, and were relevant. In order for us to do that, we knew we couldn’t do it with just one tactic.”

One of the more unique tactics that they will roll out come Super Bowl Sunday is a discount on Super Bowl merchandise.

Thanks to their partnership with the NFL, Pizza Hut will be offering the only discount on official Super Bowl merchandise purchased on nflshop.com and will only be available for Pizza Hut rewards members who purchase a pizza on Super Bowl Sunday.

READ MORE: Natty Light’s Super Bowl Moment

The 20-percent off discount will be redeemable on gear, including Super Bowl gear, starting on the Monday after Super Bowl and running through the end of February.

A collaborative effort between the league and the brand, Radley pointed to the NFL’s willingness to make this happen as one of the important factors in having it all come together.

“We do a lot of our sales through our Hut Rewards program and we wanted to reward our most loyal customers. We want to be innovative, we want to be unique, and we wanted to give customers an experience that they haven’t been able to have before. Luckily, the NFL bought into what we wanted to deliver for our fans.”

With all eyes on the Super Bowl, Radley and the team at Pizza Hut see an opportunity that is not just about garnering a few more ad impressions, but serving as a way for them to test new concepts, new initiatives, and ultimately new products.

“This is a springboard for innovation for us. With something like our $5 lineup, we are taking the messaging beyond just pizza. The idea behind the offering is to bring in new products at a very low price barrier that consumers can come in and try. We’re using our relationship with the NFL as a mechanism for talking about our innovation within the QSR category.”

New Year, New Opportunities

As the final chapter for the 2019 NFL season gets set to play out on the field, Radley and her team are already preparing for next year.

With a year of lead time to work with instead of six weeks, plans for 2019 include improvement in areas such as diversifying their audience and providing more personal experience to consumers.

Like any multi-year deal, it’s a work in progress.

“We’re really pleased with the partnership in year one. The way we look at things like sales is more of a holistic approach. For example, we know that the volume of orders placed this season not only bolstered sales, but also brand sentiment. As we go forward, we’re looking at ways in which we can improve purchase consideration, connection to the brand, and diversifying our audience a bit more.”

To do this, Radley will lean on her performance marketing team to deliver a more personalized approach.

“We will continue to look at ways to bring the partnership to a localized fan base so that we can do more targeted and personalized communication. The goal will be to find ways to amplify our partnership by providing more of a personalized experience to our current customers and the new ones that we bring in.”

If everything goes according to plan, Hotlanta will be HUTlanta come Super Bowl Sunday.

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

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NFL Teams Re-Engage Fan Bases through Draft Parties

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When the 2019 NFL Draft kicks off tonight in Nashville, Music City will become the fourth different location in the last four years  to host the league’s annual player-selection meeting, following Dallas, Philadelphia and Chicago. While Nashville is the nerve center, with three networks – ABC, ESPN and NFL Network – broadcasting all or part of the three-day event, NFL teams across the country will be hosting their own draft parties. The stated reason for these parties is to celebrate the influx of new talent, but the real goal is to energize and engage their fan bases.

According to Seth Rabinowitz, president of Rabinowitz Ventures and a former marketing exec with the New York Jets, the team draft party is the unofficial start of the new season.

“The span of time between the final game of the prior regular season and the draft is probably the longest single period of time where there’s really nothing to do,” said Rabinowitz. “There’s no touch point. So it’s important to re-engage with your fan base after basically four months of idle time. Strategically, that was always really important. You don’t want to let too much time pass between touches.”

READ MORE: Jake Plummer Carries Quarterback Lessons into the Startup World

So while the personnel departments at all 32 NFL clubs are busy putting the finishing touches on their draft boards, other executives  around the league are preparing these draft events. A vast majority of teams host parties – some at their facility, others at a local bar or restaurant. Some are held Thursday night, during the first round of the draft. Others are all-day events held on Saturday, when rounds four through seven take place.

There are three varieties of draft party. On a smaller scale, there might be an exclusive gathering for team sponsors and business partners. “It’s a good excuse to do something that you like to do periodically from a relationship standpoint,” said Rabinowitz.

There might be a larger, still-exclusive party for season-ticket holders. “You’re always looking to add value to that season-ticket ‘basket of goods,’” he said. “So a draft party is a nice one.”

Finally, some teams will open their stadium and invite all fans. Most of these events are free, though some teams charge for admission. In those cases, the fee may include autograph sessions and photos with current players.

Some teams, like the Minnesota Vikings, will host a tiered draft party. The Vikings’ “Largest Party the North Has Ever Seen” is sponsored by Miller Lite and takes place Thursday night at U.S. Bank Stadium. General admission is $20, but the sold-out VIP tickets ran at $125 and include preferred seating, complimentary dinner, drinks and gifts.

The Dallas Cowboys’ draft party, also sponsored by Miller Lite, takes place at The Star, the team’s headquarters in Frisco, Texas. It’s free to the public and takes place all three days of the draft.

The most ambitious draft party might be the one being thrown by the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers hope to engage their existing fan base but also add to it as they enter their third season in Los Angeles. So they rented out a large section of the iconic Santa Monica Pier for an event open to all fans.

“The Chargers draft party has always been a private event for season-ticket holders, but we really felt it was important to not only give them a great experience but also open it up and build new fans at the same time,” said Chargers CMO Steve Ziff. The team rented out a restaurant adjacent to their space at the pier, where they’ll host sponsors and business partners. The entire event is free to the public.

“Our biggest goal is to blend back to L.A. as much as we can,” said Ziff. “Do some cool stuff for our fans, give them some experiences that they traditionally can’t get on their own and bring the Chargers to them.”

READ MORE: Cryotherapy Meets Jaylon Smith’s Crucial Three C’s

Whether or not a team’s draft party has free admission, sponsors underwrite much of the expense anyway.

“We never had any trouble finding sponsors for this,” Rabinowitz said of his experience with the Jets. “It’s valuable sponsor inventory. It’s a chance for sponsors to activate, to have an on-site presence, for them to get re-connected with the fan base after a period of idle time.”

Draft parties might not be a big revenue stream, but between sponsors and concession sales, there is some money to be made. Even if costs a team money, Rabinowitz said, it’s still a good idea.

“I think it would be well worth doing as a way to add value to the season-ticket proposition,” he said. “That’s a huge revenue stream and certainly worth investing against.”

 

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How The 2019 Masters Revived ‘The Tiger Effect’

Three years ago, Tiger Woods’ brand was at a low point. But his surprise win at Augusta primes golf’s most famous star for a business comeback story.

Jeff Eisenband

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Photo Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

In the summer 2016, Tiger Woods’ decline was not only a talking point among fans, but within golf business as well. Nike Golf decided it had enough. The brand halted production of golf clubs, balls and bags, products it started during Woods’ reign.

“All of a sudden there were 25 free agents in the marketplace,” remembers David Abeles, CEO, TaylorMade. “One of those happened to be Tiger.”

According to Abeles, TaylorMade inked deals with 22 of those 25 free agents. In January 2017, TaylorMade announced an equipment deal with Woods, becoming his provider for drivers, fairway woods, irons and wedges.

Two years later, that investment looks like a genius move. Woods won last week’s Masters with 13 of his 14 clubs crafted by TaylorMade (Woods uses a Scotty Cameron putter). “The Tiger Effect” has been revived, as Woods is not only a top golfer on paper but also the sport’s crown jewel of marketability.

TaylorMade is rolling with that. Within 24 hours of Woods claiming his fifth green jacket, the brand decorated its Carlsbad HQ in a photo of Woods on No. 18 at Augusta.

“We wanted to celebrate the victory on behalf of his greatness and certainly our affiliation with him.” Abeles says. “Behind that, it was all the products that he played with, particularly his drivers and his fairway woods, M5s, those products aren’t just for Tiger Woods. Those products were designed candidly with Tiger, but really for every golfer at every skill level around the world.”

In another stroke of good timing, TaylorMade unveiled a new line of P-7TW irons last week, to go on sale May 1. Abeles admits the forged-blade irons, which were designed by Woods, are more suited for the “better player,” but says it is “one of the most beautiful golf clubs you’ll ever look at.”

While TaylorMade is selling equipment, the PGA Tour has Woods as its own marketing chip. Woods’ Masters win was his 15th major title and his 81st PGA Tour victory. That leaves him one behind Sam Snead’s record 82 PGA Tour titles.

Within minutes of Woods’ win, the PGA Tour starting rolling out “Chasing 82” content, which it began creating since his 80th victory at last year’s Tour Championship. On PGATour.com, a “Chasing 82” page includes summaries of Woods’ first 80 wins (No. 81 still needs its entry), which Laura Neal, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president, communications, calls “basically a treasure trove for Tiger Woods fans.” The Tour also bought an ad space for Woods in USA Today for the following day.

The Tiger machine will market much of itself. Sunday’s live Masters coverage averaged 10.8 million viewers, the most for a morning golf broadcast in 32 years. Over 1 billion minutes of Masters coverage was streamed over the four days, according to CBS Sports.

That provides a runway for the PGA Tour to market its other stars, or as Neal notes, the generation Woods created.

“If you have a passion point or interest and a player shares that back, how do we match you up with that?” Neal says. “If you’re into BMX racing, Rickie Fowler is, too. From a charity perspective, if you’re interested in Special Olympics, it’s knowing Jordan Spieth has a sister who has special needs and he’s super involved with Special Olympics. What is that runway to becoming a PGA Tour fan? And it’s not just 30 or 40-year-old guys in khakis and white golf shirts. There’s so much for color and dimension out there from top to bottom. You can find a reason to have a favorite player. It’s not just Tiger.”

TaylorMade and PGA Tour were accompanied by other Woods partners with assets ready for his victory. Monster Energy, Bridgestone and Upper Deck were among those boasting about their relationships with Woods. Of course, his old pal Nike, which still provides his apparel and footwear, also remained at the forefront.

“Tiger is an incredible athlete and we are proud to have such a longstanding partnership with him. His ability to overcome obstacles in the pursuit of his crazy dream is a lesson that transcends sports and inspires us all,” Nike told FOS in a statement.

Nike was one of the few sponsors that stood by Woods in the wake of his infidelity scandal revealed in 2009. Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade, General Motors and Gillette were all among those that terminated or suspended endorsement deals with Woods around that time.

For a time, Woods was untouchable. Years of injuries and poor play only made that slide more precipitous. Now, advertisers are crafting a redemption story.

“We believe in him and one of the most beautiful things about TaylorMade is we believe in people and we recognize that life deals all of us different scenarios, but we never give up on people,” Abeles says, going back to the company’s 2017 decision to partner with Woods. “Having an opportunity to meet Tiger and become personally close with Tiger, I think what he’s done as a person and what he’s done is the golfer is incredibly admirable. And so, when we had an opportunity to get to know him and think about what’s important to him and what was important to us, it was very clear to us that it’d be a wonderful fit for both of us.”

Woods will never be able to sweep his infidelities under the rug. His value is unlikely to return to where it once was, either, back when he was shaving with Roger Federer, producing his own line of Gatorade and inspiring the world to wear red Nike shirts and black hats on Sundays.

Yet as the Tour and his current sponsors have demonstrated, he has returned to the mountain of the sports marketability. America loves a comeback story. Just ask Alex Rodriguez and Mike Tyson.

Woods is 43 years old and science says this second wave of “The Tiger Effect” won’t last as long as the first. But for the time being, the roar is back. And in golf, that is going to drive a lot of business.

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LPGA’s ‘Drive On’ Campaign Highlights Diversity, Inclusion, Empowerment

The LPGA, its players and its commissioner are committed to leaving the Tour better than they found it, both domestically and globally.

Jeff Eisenband

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Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In November 2017, Jon Iwata, former chief brand officer at IBM Corporation, was among those elected to the LPGA Board of Directors. At one of his first board meetings, he asked LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan a simple question: What is the tour selling?

“That’s a softball down the middle,” Whan remembers thinking. He broke down the LPGA’s commitment to being customer-focused, its integrations between players and sponsors and its mission for all involved to leave the women’s game better off than they found it. Whan then remembers looking into Iwata’s face and realizing there was a disconnect within the LPGA.

“How do we make sure that we communicate outwardly what we’ve long since both communicated and lived, inwardly?” he says he asked himself.

READ MORE: Corona Premier Sets Sights on Golf With U.S. Open Sponsorship

The result is the LPGA’s “Drive On” campaign, which debuted in March. Featuring both LPGA golfers and outside women of multiple ages, the commercial addresses such topic as bullying, body image and inclusion. Originally intended to be a TV commercial, the first clip, “This is For Every Girl,” went viral on social media before even making its TV debut.

“We listen to our athletes as opposed to our athletes to listening to us,” Whan says. “Our athletes will tell you that you may see me at the top of my game playing all around the world, but the effort to get here, no matter which one you’re talking to, you’ve had your share of setbacks and naysayers and challenges and walls and ceilings that you had to break along the way. From the top athlete on Tour to the one just breaking in, it resonates with them. They realize what they’re doing is about more than golf.”

To that end, in order for the Tour to grow – and to connect with sponsors – players must go the extra mile in their off-the-course responsibilities. Rather than just slap sponsor names on tournaments, Whan and his team take the time to educate the players on their partners.

“Nobody is sticking a note in LeBron James’ locker tonight talking about the new bank that just joined,” Whan says, talking to FOS before the ANA (All Nippon Airways) Inspiration earlier in April. “But for our 140 players on tour this week, we’ll have a note in their locker talking about ANA and pictures of the most important people that’ll be here this week and where to send your handwritten thank-you card.”

That’s right. For each tournament, the LPGA asks its players to write at least one handwritten thank-you card to a sponsor  — and some volunteer to write more than one. This added touch is only seen by those on the business side.

“A lot of CEOs have said to me, ‘I have an entire drawer dedicated to your Tour because I don’t know what to do with those cards,’” Whan laughs. “I think having a drawer at every CEO’s office is a pretty valuable piece of real estate.”

Those CEOs extend well beyond U.S. borders. ANA, for instance, is a Japanese brand. While the PGA Tour goes international for one Asia swing plus the Open Championship, the LPGA has two Asia-Australia swings and a longer European swing. Moreover, the LPGA is also being broadcaste in roughly 170 countries.

“It creates revenue that didn’t exist 30 years ago for the LPGA,” Whan says. “It creates global superstars. Jessica and Nelly Korda stepping on a tee in Malaysia is no different than stepping on a tee in Toledo, in terms of size of gallery, people that know them, have done the research on them and where the shirts that say, ‘Go Korda!’ I see them all over the world.”

And golfers are starting to see that in their bottom lines. When Whan got to the LPGA in 2010, the Tour had two millionaires. He takes pride in that number growing to around 20 in 2018. He credits the increased global appeal with helping provide the necessary company revenue.

“If you can get to this level, I want to make sure if you’re at this level and can stay at this level, that this is a great financial opportunity for you,” he says.

One area Whan will have to address for revenue is fantasy and gambling. Whan says he would be wrong to ignore the rising tide of legalized sports betting becoming more prominent in the United States.

“I don’t want to be the guy that the parade went by, and I forgot to get in,” he says.

READ MORE: Ernie Johnson Talks March Madness, Sports Media and More

Still, Whan is protective of his players and caddies. He says his No. 1 goal in this situation is to maintain the integrity of those two parties. Fantasy and betting is already existent in sportsbooks and apps in the U.S. without any LPGA partnerships. Last month, the PGA Tour announced it will permit players to attain sponsorships “by casinos and other legal gambling companies” so long as those brands’ primary focus is not sports gambling.

PGA Tour events will also have the option to bring on such entities as title sponsors.

“I’ve seen this happen in football and others with things like fantasy football,” Whan says. “I do realize that there’s a significant opportunity to bring a fan base to the game that may not be at the game otherwise. My wife can tell you the backup tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs and probably didn’t even know the Kansas City team was named the Chiefs before fantasy football. It makes you kind of engage in a sport at a higher level.”

All of which circles back to “Drive On.” Whan, the LPGA staff and its players operate under the internal tagline, “Act Like a Founder.” “Drive On” is the external equivalent and the pitch to sponsors about an organization hoping to leave its sport in a better place than they found it. Whan only hopes they get the message. 

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