In 2012, McDonalds signed a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract to become the official restaurant sponsor of the NFL. It was a natural move for the world’s biggest quick-serve restaurant (QSR), which has over 18,710 establishments worldwide. To put this in perspective, Papa Johns, the official pizza of the NFL, has 755 locations and ranks 10th. Also, the ages 6 to 14 demographic is essential for McDonald’s business, and nearly 23 million children between 6-14 watched the NFL in 2012, with 46 percent of them girls.
Despite the stars seemingly aligned for McDonalds, last year only 12.9 percent of NFL viewers identified the chain as the official QSR of the NFL while over 25 percent of viewers said Subway. Turnkey Intelligence attributes this to Subway sponsor Robert Griffin III and the fact that Subway experienced store growth seven times that of McDonalds. A study complied by QSR magazine found that 17 restaurant brands, including 10 quick serve and fast and casuals, competed against one other during NFL coverage. Another study by Repucom used image recognizing technology to track every brand’s exposure from the pre-season to the Super Bowl and found that Wendy’s had the highest media value at $3.1 million while McDonalds came in third with $2.1 million. Papa Johns ranked eighth at $386,848.
What this all means is that NFL QSR advertising is a very saturated market (there are different official wing, pizza and restaurants sponsors) because of the limited direct advertising space. Companies have been more successful in striking deals with the teams and broadcasters. For example, Wingstop, the official partner of the Dallas Cowboys, has Cowboys legend Troy Aikman as its spokesman, has sponsored on-air segments such as “play of the game,” and an on-screen kickoff countdown clock. Packages and deals through networks such as Fox Sports regional networks have further increased Wingstop’s exposure during pre and post-game shows as well as allowed for greater commercial airtime.
This year McDonalds is off to a better start, scoring high in Sportsbusiness Journal’s annual NFL sponsorship survey and being identified as the official QSR for the NFL for the first time. McDonalds is going well beyond its failed Mighty Wings campaign from last year by opening this NFL season with a month-long blitz campaign promoting core products (McNuggets, french fries, Big Mac, etc.) and hope to continue the momentum all the way to the Pro Bowl, where McDonalds sponsors the balloting.
To help fans get in the mood for football, McDonalds is focusing on tailgating and providing exclusive football content and prizes for customers. For example, by using QR codes on their medium drinks — now with NFL themed packaging — customers can access exclusive NFL Now videos. Also, from Sept. 2 to Oct. 6, the company will start McDonald’s Tailgate Photo Sweepstakes where customers and fans are invited to Tweet, Vine or Instagram a picture of themselves enjoying football and McDonalds to win the “ultimate tailgate experience” or other prizes. McDonalds has learned from its mistakes and competitors by trying to differentiate its brand from others by focusing on tailgating and the experience. It will be interesting to see if its efforts pay off or if this campaign will go the way of the Mighty Wing.