Now that football teams across the country are facing off in the NFL’s 2012 season, which kicked off last week, many quick serves are beginning a gridiron contest of their own.

Marketing and advertising efforts designed around the NFL are an increasingly hot commodity in the industry. But in the NFL, which has strict rules on branded stadium signage, getting in front of viewer eyeballs without buying commercial airtime is a tricky proposition. This has led several brands to develop broadcast partnerships as part of their NFL strategy.

A study compiled exclusively for QSR by brand analysis and research firm Repucom shows that at least 17 restaurant brands, including 10 quick serves and fast casuals, competed for NFL viewers’ eyeballs in 2011 through these TV partnerships.

“It’s not really made for television,” says Peter Laatz, executive vice president of Repucom, of the NFL’s sponsorship opportunities. “For all these brands that want to get into the broadcast, that means the point of entrance is the broadcaster.”

By sponsoring segments of television broadcasts, Laatz says, brands can create an association with an NFL team or the league, something they can’t always get with a 30-second commercial.

Using image recognition technology, Repucom tracked every second of brands’ broadcast exposure during the 2011 NFL season, from the preseason to the Super Bowl. The study only examined advertising during game play, not advertising during commercial breaks.

“For all these brands that want to get into the NFL broadcast, the point of entrance is the broadcaster.”

The firm created a quality index media value, which took into account time on screen, quality of presentation of the branding on screen, the audience who saw it, and the cost to reach that audience. The study found that, in 2011, Wendy’s had the highest overall quality index, with a “media value” of nearly $3.1 million. Subway ($2.2 million), McDonald’s ($2.1 million), Domino’s ($978,734), and Pizza Hut ($920,811) rounded out the top five. Official NFL partner Papa John’s, with a “media value” of $386,848, ranked eighth in the study.

Quick-serve operators big and small say targeting the NFL’s large and loyal fan base plays a key role in their marketing efforts.

Doug Terfehr, public relations director for Pizza Hut, says the company spreads advertising across sports leagues, using broadcast partnerships, media buys, and sponsorships to reach audiences. This season, the brand is using Green Bay Packers quarterback and reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers as a spokesman.

“We look for any way and all ways to be in front of the sports fan,” Terfehr says.

But the NFL is in a league of its own, he says.

“You look at the popularity of the NFL in America; there’s nothing that even compares to it,” Terfehr says. “We do put a lot of our focus there and have had a lot of success, because NFL fans are so passionate and spend so much time watching.”

Terfehr says Pizza Hut has had success working with broadcast networks across several sports. In the NFL, it sponsors Fox’s pre-game shows.

“We do focus a lot on partnerships with major networks. That’s been a great way to engage and gain awareness and showcase our best products to the sports fan,” he says.

Burger King has long partnered with various NFL media properties, giving the brand broad access to passionate football fans, says Diego Fernandez, director of media for the brand’s North America division, in an e-mail to QSR.

“They are an iconic, brand-friendly platform from which to connect with a mass audience, providing repeated weekly brand exposure for five months of the calendar year to a key demographic for Burger King brand,” he writes.

Domino’s has been the Official Pizza of the NCAA and March Madness for the past two years and was the Official Pizza of NASCAR from 2003 to 2008.

Domino’s spokesman Chris Brandon says in an e-mail that the NFL offers a loyal fan base and audience. He points to the popularity of Super Bowl Sunday, the single best day for Domino’s sales.

“When you broadcast during NFL football, you are likely broadcasting to a lot of hungry people who may be in the mood for Domino’s,” Brandon writes. “The loyalty of viewers, mixed with it being such a reliable audience driver, has made NFL broadcasts a great fit for us.”

Certain foods, like pizza and wings, have become very popular with sporting events, especially professional football.

“This is Christmastime for us, and it really does pay off,” says Marcia Harris-Daniel, vice president of marketing services for Texas-based Wingstop.

She says the 520-unit Wingstop targets NFL customers through official sponsorships with teams and networks, in addition to traditional media buys.

The company is the Official Wings partner of the Dallas Cowboys, a natural fit considering its spokesman is former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. In the past, the brand has sponsored on-air segments during Cowboys games, like a “play of the game” or an on-screen clock ticking down to kickoff.

Packages with television networks, like Fox Sports regional networks, give Wingstop exposure on multiple levels, whether through coach’s shows, pre- or post-game shows, or commercial airtime.

Individual stores or co-ops of stores will often layer in advertising with corporate efforts, ensuring a big payoff from game day, Harris-Daniel says. Wingstop has even focused some of its social media efforts on engaging football fans online.

“I think football is still the king of the sports realm,” she says.

Marketing & Promotions, Web Exclusives, Burger King, Domino's, McDonald's, Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, Subway, Wendy's, Wingstop