Like many national sporting occasions, March Madness marks an exciting time of opportunity for the quick-serve industry. To coincide with this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Pizza Hut rolled out its WingStreet concept to all units across the U.S.

“For pizza and wings, [sports events] are perfect consumption occasions. Obviously, we see our business really correlate with these times,” says Carrie Walsh, chief marketing officer at Pizza Hut. “A lot of wings specifically get consumed during March Madness, and we wanted to take advantage of that.”

Walsh says Pizza Hut rolled out WingStreet to more than 5,000 locations nationally because of an increase in popularity. The wing brand offers traditional, bone-out, or bone-in crispy wings coated in a choice of eight sauces, including variations on Buffalo, Spicy Asian, Honey BBQ, and Lemon Pepper. An order of eight wings with any sauce is $5—$1 is added for bone-in wings.

“We’ve invested in the equipment to kitchen fry all of our wings as any wing joint would do, and that’s what really differentiates us in the pizza category,” Walsh says. “We waited to launch nationally until we felt like we were at a point where everyone in America would be able to access wings for Pizza Hut.” She adds Pizza Hut has seen more pizzas leave with wing orders and more order of wings only.

To leverage March Madness in the advertising of the national rollout, Pizza Hut turned to sportscaster and radio host Scott Van Pelt, who will be reporting on the NCAA tournament, for a new ad campaign that includes TV spots. Van Pelt will also be integral in spreading the word about WingStreet’s post-tournament promotion that will reward consumers if a team with a winged mascot or nickname wins.

“We’ve promised if any winged teams cut down the net in Dallas, we would give all of America free wings on [April 8] after the tournament,” Walsh says. “We’re really tapping into the fun and the frenzy of the tournament and leveraging the connection of wings to all those winged mascots out there.”

Throughout the tournament, Pizza Hut is also making daily deliveries of free wings to select fans who tweet at Pizza Hut using the hashtag #WingsDelivered.

“There’s a nice synergy between pizza and wings, and … we know that the March Madness occasion and the games are a great time for wings.” Walsh says.

Through WingStreet’s national rollout may be the biggest move made by a pizza chain for March Madness, other brands are jumping in to offer deals and engage consumers. For example, Domino’s is offering 50 percent off all pizzas ordered online with the use of a promotion code. Little Caesars is offering its large pepperoni pizza for $5, and if a No. 16 seed beats a No. 1 seed in the opening round, the brand will offer its Crazy Bread for free on April 8.

By Tamara Omazic

Marketing & Promotions, Menu Innovations, News, Pizza, Pizza Hut, Wingstreet