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Pizza operators are likely breathing a collective sigh of relief that the NFL season really is taking place after drawn out threats of a lockout. The game of football conjures up a zealous spirit complemented by elaborate tailgate parties, and plenty of chains take advantage with promotions and partnerships that put pizza front and center.
Papa John's Pizza just kicked off its second year of a multi-year sponsorship with the NFL and is the Official Pizza of 14 franchised teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles.
Tish Muldoon, Papa John's spokesperson, said the company's association with football makes sense because there is "no better combination than pizza and NFL football."
Its collaboration with the NFL, she added, opened the doors for other partnerships, including with NBC's "Football Night in America."
"This season, every Sunday night, you'll see Papa John's spots and integration in that programming. We're also involved with ESPN and the NFL Network throughout the week and on Sundays," she said. "Five months out of the year, consumers make football a big part of their weekends and we're proud to be a part of that."
Papa John's kicked off this football season with its inaugural Million Pizza Giveaway promotion. Throughout the NFL's regular season, those who sign up to be Papa Rewards members will be entered for a chance to receive one of the 60,000 free, large, one-topping pizzas given away each week. Papa John's will reward the pizzas in the form of 20 Papa Rewards points deposited into members' accounts.
The promotion, Muldoon said, is a great way to provide people with an opportunity to try Papa John's pizza.
With its headquarters located in the shadow of the University of Michigan's "Big House," the largest football stadium in the country, Domino's also takes plenty of advantage of the football-pizza pairing.
Customers seem to be responsive. One Domino's franchisee in North Carolina estimated that sales go up 10 to 15 percent on football game days.
Of course, the company itself can't speak to sales because of public disclosure, but Chris Brandon, spokesperson for Domino's, said: "We love anytime groups are gathered together at home, and football weekends create a reason for that to happen. It's a natural occasion for Domino's Pizza, and that's a good thing for us."
Domino's also recently signed a multi-year sponsorship agreement with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As the team's sponsor, Domino's will work with the NFL team on its marketing and promotional initiatives throughout the football season.
According to the Buccaneers' website, Domino's will launch contests for fans to have a chance to win exclusive VIP gameday access at Raymond James Stadium, as well as the chance to travel to an away game.
Straw Hat Pizza
California-based Straw Hat Pizza has added chicken wings to its menu just in time to kick off football season. The new wings are now available in five flavors: Oven Roasted, Hot, BBQ, Teriyaki and Sweet Chili, and are served with a creamy ranch dressing.
Straw Hat has had wings for more than 10 years, but they were previously only available in one flavor.
"We sourced a new wing that is roasted plain and, when they come out of our ovens, we mix them in which sauce or combination of sauces the customer wants. Our guests love the choice to create their own," said Jonathan Fornaci, president of Straw Hat Pizza.
Fornaci said the chain normally sees a big uptick in sales during football season, aided by the restaurants' staple big screen TVs and NFL Ticket package, which provides access to all NFL games, regardless of market.
Also to coincide with this football season, Straw Hat Pizza's chicken wings will be offered for 50 cents Monday through Friday from 3-6 p.m. at all participating locations through Nov. 31. Beer specials also will be highlighted during those times.
"We serve beer and wine at most locations and, with consumers cutting back, we believe wings and beer will be a huge hit with our fans this season," Fornaci said. "Our locations are also kid-family-friendly, so when mom and dad are watching the game, kids can play in our game rooms with video, arcade and pinball, which most Straw Hat Pizza locations boast."
Pizza Hut welcomed back football season with a quirky video of various employees showing off their "pizza-inspired touchdown dance" via the company's Facebook page.Pizza Hut asked its fans to join in and upload their own "Pizza Hut Strut."
Also, Pizza Hut's new marketing campaign focuses on its $10 Any Deal – "Any pizza, any size, any crust, any topping, just $10." The commercial includes two men solidifying their Fantasy Football team, with one promising a trade of a Pizza Hut pizza for Miami Dolphins' player Reggie Bush.
"With taste and value that crush the competition, Pizza Hut is the only pizza worthy of being traded for a star like Reggie Bush," said Kurt Kane, chief marketing officer at Pizza Hut. "Consumers are becoming increasingly value-conscious and we're satisfying their craving for a hot deal by bringing back $10 Any. Our $10 Any pizza deal redefines value in the industry by combining the best tasting pizza with an unbelievable price."
Check out the commercial:
Although Nashville-based Hunt Brothers is deeply involved in NASCAR sponsorships, its newly redesigned website features a football them.
The "Tackle Your Taste Buds" promotion includes a Lotsa Meat Pizza for $9.49 at participating locations.
Cincinnati staple LaRosa's Pizzeria recently signed a deal with the city's NFL franchise Bengals to sell pizza at concession stands throughout Paul Brown Stadium during the season.
Buddy LaRosa founded the pizzeria in 1954 in Cincinnati, a fact that makes the partnership a natural fit, according to Bengals Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn.
"We are thrilled to partner with a great local company like LaRosa's and look forward to our fans having the opportunity to enjoy their pizza at Paul Brown Stadium this season," she said.
The former Motor City Bowl, played in Detroit, has been called the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl for the past two seasons. The company has signed on again to sponsor this year's game, set for Dec. 27 at Ford Field, in a matchup between a Mid-American Conference team and a Big Ten team.
When Little Caesars Pizza signed on to sponsor the NCAA-sanctioned game, David Scrivano, president of Little Caesar Enterprises Inc., said "Pizza and football are a natural combination, and our franchisees are eager to share the bowl experience with our customers."
Alicia Kelso /
Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.