Industry News | August 22, 2010

Why the Passion of the Sports Fan Matters to You

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Quick service and sports may seem like two wildly different industries, but some experts say that the marriage of the two industries through marketing makes plenty of sense.

Some of those experts will be on hand at QSR’s Dine America conference, September 12–14 in Atlanta, where they’ll help quick serves answer the age-old question: Does sports marketing really work?

Panelists include Arjun Sen, president and founder of Restaurant Marketing Group; Bruce Skala, vice president of Atlanta-based chain Taco Mac; and Tracy White, chief sales officer and senior vice president of sales and marketing for Atlanta Spirit LLC, parent company of the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers.

Sen believes that the quick-service industry has two things in common with sports: passionate followers and sheer size. This, he says, makes the sports industry a perfect fit for quick serves looking to expand their marketing presence.

“There’s no industry other than sports and quick service that touches customers that frequently,” Sen says.

“From a quick-serve point of view, they are trying to connect to the passion [of consumers] and, depending on what sports you follow, that is the ultimate blend of passion and frequency.”

The sports industry, of course, reaches far beyond the popularity of the National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball professional organizations. Sen says that across all sports, there are marketing opportunities for every quick serve.

“Sports marketing is not just about sponsoring the Washington Redskins or the Chicago Bulls,” he says. “Certain sports may have more of a male skew, but there are sports … that skew to exactly what your audience is.”

White, who helps coordinate marketing partnerships between companies and the Hawks and Thrashers, agrees that quick serves interested in selling themselves through sports will find a fit somewhere.

“Sports marketing can apply to everybody, it just depends on the scope of your business, and that’s got to be married to the scope of the organization that you’re talking to,” he says.

This means, White says, that anyone from a chief marketing officer to a single-store operator can get involved in sports marketing. Marketing executives for the big brands, he says, generally seek brand exposure in their sports marketing efforts, while operators usually run traffic-building promotions.

Sports marketing programs aren’t without their risks. Sen says they are often a “leap of faith” because it can be difficult to do a test market. Quick serves also have to face up to the fact that in the world of sports marketing, they aren’t going to be the star.

“In any partnership there’s somebody who’s strong and somebody who’s not that strong,” he says. “Even though you’re a major quick-serve player, the limelight is taken over by the sports team.”

But Sen says the ROI on sports marketing programs, though flat initially, has the potential to grow into something big. He says it’s possible for quick-serve companies to turn their brand into an essential part of a sports franchise’s operation, one in which a sports fan makes a direct correlation between team and brand.

“We’re in the entertainment business, and people choose to spend their time, their money, and their hours watching us, and they’re emotionally invested in our brands because they’re fans,” White says.

“If you can capture the passion that our fans have and associate your brand with our brands and bring that to life at retail, that’s where the magic happens.”

To request an invitation to Dine America, click here.

By Sam Oches

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