What do McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Dunkin’, Taco Bell, Jimmy John’s, Chipotle and Little Caesars all have in common? In the last four years, all of them have dug deep and paid the price for eye-wateringly expensive ad spots during the biggest sporting event in the (U.S.) calendar. And that’s just the national spots, going regionally, you’ll double, maybe even treble that list as smaller challenger quick-service brands try to raise their profile while everyone is … grabbing a beer, topping up their bowl of chips, or grabbing one last sloppy joe for the final quarter.

Whether there is true ROI (for even the biggest brands) in booking a spot during the Super Bowl is not a question I’m prepared to ask. What I’m really interested in, rather, is a legend from a completely different sporting arena: baseball’s Billy Beane. Beane made ROI his personal mission, building a team on a budget by using data to reveal the most undervalued players in the game. While they may not be the very best, they offered value and enabled Beane to build a historically successful roster on a budget.

This got me thinking, given the close-affinity so many quick-service brands have with sport—whether it’s through sponsorship, advertising, college teams, pro leagues or individual players—as to whether the tendency to default to the big three (football, basketball and baseball) means we’re missing out on something which could generate real impact? Especially when it comes to smaller, challenger brands, none of which would have the sort of deep pockets needed to make a big splash at the Super Bowl… What would Billy Beane do for them?!

According to data gathered by GWI over the last four years, there are approximately 71.7 million Americans who are actively interested in watching sports. Of those, 36.3 million say they are regular customers of “fast food” restaurants.

While there are no big surprises in the sports folks are most passionate about following—though I am slightly surprised to see winter sports ranking so highly—it’s interesting to note that quick-service customers are generally likely to be less engaged with the most popular sports.


That these “top” sports are more popular with general sports fans suggests that the opposite must also be true: There must be a sub-set of sports that are disproportionately followed by loyal quick-service customers.

By creating an index, where the average sports fans engagement with a sport is 100, we can re-create this chart, showing which sports are more popular amongst regular fast-food customers than against the general population. The resulting data is eye-catching, because, for one, who’d have thought quick-service harbored a cache of America’s biggest cricket fans?


Of course, you might rightly argue that these represent niche sporting interests—though I would mention that there is a lot of money to be made by catering and finding loyal fans amongst a niche (just ask The Halal Guys).

But let’s be brutal. What happens if we reduce this list to only include sports that more than 30 percent of our target audience are interested in? Here’s what we find:


While the delta is not as large as when we include the ultra-niche sports, there is still a significant difference. For one, the data tells us that over 60 percent of the 11 million wrestling fans in the U.S. are also regular fast-food customers. Or to put it another way, a wrestling fan is almost 20 percent more likely to be a regular quick-service customer than a football fan.

All of which is to say, that if Billy Beane was a quick-service marketer, he would not be focusing on football or baseball—He’d be donning a sequined lycra bodysuit and picking up the phone to Vince McMahon.


Jordan Harper is Executive Strategy Director for Iris, focused on Digital Transformation and based in Chicago, he loves finding and solving problems for businesses and helping de-mystify technology and deliver on ambitious transformation initiatives.

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