Quick service restaurants have always been a figure in college sports marketing. Whether it’s a local pizzeria ad in the stadium or a nationwide channel running an integrated campaign with television links, college fans have responded well to brands in this category over the decades.
The upcoming fall university season will not only mark the return of fans to the stadiums; it is also an opportunity for brand marketers, such as quick service restaurants, to use both traditional and emerging marketing efforts to reach current and new fans. There are five trends we are seeing in the space that are worth noting that could be of use to fast food companies looking to expand their involvement or engage with college sports fans for the first time.
Take advantage of the scope of university sports
Brands are learning that college sports fans make up a large national audience, numbering over 182 million, even though they have their individual affiliations. According to SSRS / Lucer on Trends, there are more college sports fans than there are for any professional league in the United States. This represents a great opportunity for brands to work nationally and regionally to develop their strategies, while targeting locally. It’s not uncommon to see Quick Services teaming up with a dozen or more different schools to activate a single campaign.
Changing consumer preferences
Over the years, we’ve observed the same trends that exist in the broader restaurant and food industry as consumers move towards healthier choices. For the first time in recent years, sandwiches and chicken have supplanted burgers and pizza, which have long dominated the category and still represent a significant percentage of brand engagement. Within campaigns, we’ve seen the creative focus shift towards messages of well-being, as well as convenience. Along with fast food, delivery services have recently gained strength on the national scene and expect more growth in this category.
Prospective digital approach
The pandemic has certainly had an impact on the assets and channels available to brands in the intercollegiate sports space. Smart brands have shifted their spending toward digital engagements with positive and potentially surprising results. Using first-party fan data and targeting digital programmatic advertising approaches, brands have seen 3-4 times the engagement they would expect with digital creation. Culver’s, a family-run restaurant with cheese curds on the menu, has gone digital to “stay relevant and seasonal with Badger, Wisconsin fans on game day and every day.”
It is a pattern that can be seen with others in the fast food restaurant landscape. A national burger restaurant chain used in-app and conversion point tracking to find the right spot for their campaigns, linking their digital activations to on-site and student-based activations on campus.
Smart use of school IP
A chain of chicken restaurants used the school’s intellectual property alongside endorsements of professional athletes to create activations that stretched beyond varsity sports to billboards, city bus wraps and to other out-of-home activities. These have proven to be particularly important in places where they have opened up new locations.
They have deployed signage at points of sale in stores to highlight their proud partnership. For example, Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Stores ran a creative campaign using an online memory game, which encouraged interactive fan engagement while highlighting menu options and fan images like mascots and mascots. school logos. A large sandwich chain used the school’s IP in their mobile apps and online ordering systems. Brands across all categories find that the use of school logos, mascots and other images and color schemes, which are owned by schools and licensed through their media and licensing partners, make campaigns attractive and relevant. for sports fans which results in higher affinity and conversion. .
It’s more than food
About five years ago, Jersey Mike’s Subs started college sports marketing. As a growing business, their restaurants were opening their doors to key college markets and they viewed college sports marketing as a way to raise awareness and drive traffic. To connect with the students, they wanted to create the A Sub Above experience and presented Jersey Mike’s Tailgate Tour in 2019. After a year of downtime due to the pandemic, the 14-week, 14-stop mobile college football tour kicks off at the University of Minnesota football game this fall. A branded fully customized tailgate trailer gives football fans a chance to sample Jersey Mike’s fresh-sliced authentic submarines, download the app to enter a raffles and experience other entertainment during play day including outdoor lounge with Adirondack chairs and picnic benches, mobile device charging station, corn hole lawn games, freebies and more. Jersey Mike’s also extends use of intellectual property rights with visible TV and digital signage and outreach social activations in nearly 50 schools.
These trends offer lessons for quick service restaurant owners and operators that can help them grow their businesses, game day and every day.
Jennifer davis is the Director of Marketing and Communications (CMO) at LEARFIELD (formerly known as Learfield IMG College), a leading media and technology services company that partners with nearly 200 varsity athletic programs and conferences across the country.