If you hadn't heard of Mercer before, chances are all of that changed today with the team's upset of perennial favorite Duke. And who knew Dayton, Harvard and North Dakota State were basketball schools, worthy of jaw-dropping upsets in round one of the NCAA men's basketball tournament?
March Madness is here, and with it brings a spike in pizza sales. Brands have stepped up their campaigns accordingly — with national TV spots, billboards, social media posts and menu promotions.
According to Scott Anthony, marketing consultant and owner of Punxsy Pizza in Pennsylvania, it's important to have a campaign of some sort for the occasion, especially if you're based in an area with a strong basketball following.
March Madness, he adds, is just one piece of the promotional puzzle for this time of year, in addition to Pi Day, St. Patrick's Day, the first day of spring and Lent.
"March is great month to get things rolling after the usual slumps in January and February," he said. "I see plenty of opportunities." So, for example, while his concept isn't situated in a "strong" basketball market, Punxsy Pizza is currently running a build-up campaign for (Pittsburgh Pirates) baseball season.
There are plenty of other brands — regional and national — that are located knee deep in bracketland, and while they may have mentioned something here or there about a shamrock or about spring, their focus has been honed in on hoops.
CiCi's Pizza, for example, has used the occasion to push its Pizza Perks program. Those who sign up will receive game day deals in their inbox or via phone.
Domino's Pizza is beefing up its digital orders by offering a 50-percent discount off all menu-priced pizza orders placed online from today through March 23.
"With the convenience of our digital ordering channels, no one will have to miss a second of the games when they order online," spokesperson Chris Brandon said in a news release.
The brand's March Madness campaigns have paid off in the past — Domino's sold more than 1.7 million pizzas during the 2013 Men's Final Four.
The occasion is so big for couch surfing pizza/wing consumers, that Pizza Hut picked it to introduce its WingStreet concept nationally. Customers can get an order of eight WingStreet wings with choice of any sauce starting at $5. The promotion is available for delivery, as well as carryout or dine-in.
To celebrate the launch, Pizza Hut is hosting a "winged team challenge" during the NCAA tournament that will reward customers if a "winged" team wins the title. Last year's tournament featured a winged winner — the University of Louisville Cardinals.
Little Caesars, meanwhile, bet on a Cinderella story for its promotion and, although it came closer than year's past (Mercer was a No. 14 seed over Duke's No. 3 seed), it's a no go. Despite no 16-seed upsets this year, the brand continues to offer its Hot-N-Ready Lunch Combo for $5.
Boston's Restaurant & Sports Bar introduced new wing flavors just ahead of March Madness, including Salt & Vinegar Dry Rub, Mango Habañero, Teriyaki, Dry Rub Cajun and Jalapeño Molasses.
"The sports bar atmosphere and chicken wings fit together effortlessly, so in response to our guests' fierce, game-day appetites, we are rolling out our five new flavor options," COO Troy Cooper said in a release.
Also just in time for the tournament, Ledo Pizza began offering its Jumbo Wings in 25-piece options. The wings come in a variety of flavors, including Sriracha, hot honey mustard, Buffalo, urban Bar-B-Que Yella, Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ, Chili Lime, Old Bay and plain.
Even the newer brands are getting in on the action. California-based PizzaRev launched a #PerfectPair campaign for March Madness, featuring any pizza and a "perfect pair" beer or wine for $9.95 throughout the month.
And Fresh Brothers (which first opened in 2008 and now has 10 units in Southern California) has erected a signature themed billboard for the occasion, featuring a pizza designed as a basketball.
Founder Adam Goldberg said the company has five such billboards up around Los Angeles, as well as box toppers, radio campaigns, direct mail and an email blast, all related to the madness.
Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.