In 2000, David Miller went from being the COO at Checkers Drive-In Restaurants to being the owner/operator of 28 Rally’s restaurants in Kentucky and southern Indiana. Since that deal, Miller has successfully promoted his restaurants by using sports to draw in customers. Miller has been a long-time supporter and sponsor of local and college sports teams in the Louisville, Kentucky, area. Whether it’s football, baseball, or basketball, Miller’s sports marketing strategies have made his Rally’s restaurants consistently profitable, win or lose.

Miller discusses the tactics behind sports marketing that can help safeguard an operator’s money while building customer loyalty.

1. Activate the Relationship Inside and Outside the Arena

There are few opportunities for a franchisee to attach their brand to a bigger brand, and sports marketing is one of those opportunities. Whether it is college, semi-professional, or pro sports, there is a large fan base there to take advantage of and utilize for potential bumps in sales. When we bought the restaurants in 2000, I knew the surrounding geography was a big college basketball area, specifically the University of Louisville (UofL). Working with Nelligan Sports Marketing and the university, the Rally’s name is now associated with UofL sports and vice versa.

However, the success doesn’t simply come by just spending money. As a franchisee, you can’t just tinker around a marketing strategy like this and hope for the best. The way you activate the relationship between you and the sports organization decides whether it will work. You can spend a lot of money, but does it benefit your stores?

A lot of the time, franchisees can get into trouble with marketing strategies and end up wasting time and getting into financial trouble because of it. I knew I didn’t want the money I spent to just be charity for the university, and not gain anything at my stores. Don’t just put an ad in the program or have a panel on the scoreboard; you won’t get the return you are looking for.

Activating the relationship can be done in hundreds of ways. The thing to shoot for is your brand’s association with the team. It should seem as if the two of you are partners. We do a number of things to manifest this sort of affiliation with UofL and we do it by making our stores part of the team. A Rally’s restaurant is a location to pick up coupons or team posters. Customers can drop their names into a drawing and their child can get picked to be on the court before the game gathering basketballs. Our stores even do free ticket giveaways. We’ve managed to be a member of the team without even playing.

Again, it doesn’t stop there. What franchisees need to make sure of if they want to get into this is branding inside the arena or stadium. Inside is where you can get recognized and get customers into the stores after the game. This can also be done in a number of other ways: coupons for free food, drawings, raffles, merchandise giveaways, and so on. The trick is to make sure the relationship is benefiting you inside and outside the event. It’s all part of the branding process. Don’t just give your money and not utilize the potential benefits of marketing this way; you have to pull the pieces together.

2. Make Sure Your Investment is Sound

When sport marketing is done right, there really isn’t any sort of loss. Your name is out there and marketing is running its course. Where franchisees can lose is when the money is wasted. Most of the time, this has to do with poor planning and not following up. I don’t mind giving money to a university or semi-pro team, but I need to make sure that it helps me, too.

The University of Louisville, along with other colleges and semi-pro or pro organizations, have associates who you can go and talk to and make sure you’re making a sound investment. Don’t be afraid to ask them the hard questions. The initial process should be simple and relatively easy to obtain.

The hard part comes after the contract is signed, whether or not a franchisee can maintain steady processes.

There are plenty of elements for you to continuously work at with this strategy. From in-game announcements, signage in the arena, fundraising opportunities, and so on, the benefits will come when a franchisee keeps pushing ahead and not sitting back hoping one or two tactics will work.

3. Partner With a Team That Has Geographic Pull

Realize early on that this sort of strategy might not be for your brand based on your geography. When we started the new locations, the UofL football team was on a roll. After some staffing changes with the team, it was less prevalent, and fell on hard times. A franchisee has to make sure that there is a draw in the geographical location to that sport or team. If there isn’t, then there won’t be any draw for customers to your stores.

Another aspect in regards to the location is constantly searching for other ways to market. When UofL is not in session, we focus our marketing strategies on the Louisville Bats, a minor league baseball team. It might not be as far-reaching as UofL basketball, but it gives us continuity throughout the entire year. Our deal is inexpensive with the Bats, but we treat it like a million-dollar one because it still has the potential to bring customers to our stores, which at the end of the day is always a positive.

Marketing & Promotions, Story, Checkers, Rally's