Playball Header

What non-sports-themed restaurants can learn from sports-themed restaurants

Every year, we gather together for the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, and the World Series. We wear fancy hats with our suits or sundresses for Kentucky Derby Day and don a jersey for the Stanley Cup Finals. We cheer on our college team for a bowl game or during March Madness. And every two years, we show our national pride throughout the Winter or Summer Olympics. For many Americans, sports provide lasting memories and a way to be part of a larger community.

In North America alone, the sports industry is projected to reach $73.5 billion dollar in worth by 2019 and grow at an annual rate of 4.5% each year. This should be of particular interest to you and your restaurants. The healthy projected growth shows how much people enjoy sports, and great opportunities to get involved in the market are plentiful. Restaurants should seek to capitalize by targeting these enthusiasts with promotions or campaigns.

Sports bar concepts have a built-in advantage as far as sports-related promotions go, but there are lots of opportunities for non-sports-themed concepts as well. In general, restaurants that use occasional sports promotions will gain a positive reputation within the community, attract new customers, and encourage visits in the future. These customers are going to engage more with brands that identify with their passion for sports. Let’s explore how non-sports-themed concepts can benefit from using sports promotions.

Playball Sports Industry Stat

Offense wins games, defense wins championships

We’ve all heard the adage before: Offense wins games but defense wins championships. When it comes to restaurant marketing, defense is the segmentation for your promotions. We understand that not all fans are created equal and that gender or age can greatly affect needs. The most important way for restaurants to segment is by geographic location and season. The timeline below illustrates the seasonality of big sporting events. Since the Super Bowl occurs in February, a related promotion is only pertinent in the weeks leading up to it, not in June, when the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals are happening. Knowing the seasons of sports and when the big events occur is crucial in order to track visit patterns and behavior tied to the seasonality of sporting events. Being aware of these patterns will help you pinpoint which events matter to your guests.

Playball Schedule


While displaced fans are inevitable, knowing which teams are the most important to your geographic area will make a promotion rewarding. In Boston, the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics are the hometown teams. But local events like the Boston Marathon are important to Bostonians as well. Boston is not a location where a New York Yankees promotion would do well – unless it was a promotion around the Red Sox beating them.

Collegiate sports teams are another important segment that savvy marketers shouldn’t ignore. College hockey games tend to be more popular in the North and less so in other parts of the country, whereas Saturdays down South are ruled by college football and the SEC Network. Depending on the location of your restaurant concept, college sports could play a major role in sports-themed promotions. The University of Alabama and Auburn University have one of the strongest rivalries in college athletics, battling each other on the football field every November in the Iron Bowl. A location-based promotion for this event would take place in and around the college towns, rather than in Boston or elsewhere.

Batter Up!

The ups and downs of the sports world can present a recurring issue for sports restaurants. Seasonal shifts, the successes or failures of teams, and the level of hype surrounding certain games may all affect business. To avoid lulls in traffic, these restaurants must constantly monitor the sports industry and identify ways to engage their customers. Duffy’s Sports Grill, The Greene Turtle, and Ninety Nine all exemplify how combining sports promotions and loyalty programs can be beneficial for business.


Duffy’s Sports Grill, a Florida-based casual-dining restaurant, boasts a distinctly upscale sports environment that features satellite programming, over 75 TVs per location, and framed authentic sports memorabilia. Duffy’s has an MVP rewards program with more than 425,000 active members, and these patrons drive 70% of the transactions across its 34 restaurants. The MVP program is divided into three tiers: Gold, All Star, and Hall of Fame. The “Hall of Fame” card is the most elite, reserved for members who spend over $3,000 during a 12-month period. The next tier is the “All Star” card, which is earned by members spending over $1,000 during a 12-month period. And lastly, the “Gold” card is for the members who spend over $500 during a 12-month period. The MVP program is designed to encourage customers to be loyal throughout the year.

    1. Visiting Duffy’s during a Sunday NFL game resulted in one Visit Credit. After four Visit Credits were earned, the guest received one entry into the grand prize sweepstakes.
    2. Visiting Duffy’s during a Sunday NFL game and spending at least $10 resulted in one Bonus Credit. After four Bonus Credits were earned, a $50 bonus was added to the guest’s account.


Duffy’s produced the promotion, crafted special messages for post-visit encouragement, and sent periodic reminders to their loyal guests. A 7.5% sales increase from the previous year was observed, indicating that the campaign had effectively stimulated the desired guest behavior.

Duffy’s provides just one example of how a sports-focused promotional campaign can be beneficial for a restaurant. Similarly, winning tickets to go to a World Series game, the Kentucky Derby, or another high-profile event would be extremely memorable for any guest.

Of course, not all promotions have to offer tickets to a championship game as the prize. Restaurants have countless other promotional options that can still be a grand slam, creating both engagement and loyalty.


Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub is the “Official Family Restaurant of the Boston Red Sox.” One promotion that the restaurant runs is “when the Red Sox win, kids eat free the following day at all New England Ninety Nine Restaurants.”2 This type of promotion typically helps casual-dining restaurants boost sales because it incentivizes people to visit and does so in a simple, community-oriented way. With nearly 6 out of 10 consumers saying that they take into account a restaurant’s family or child friendliness when choosing where to eat, deals like this draw a crowd during the promotion and increase visits down the line.3

Given its official status relative to the Red Sox, Ninety Nine has a valued affiliation with the MLB. Similarly, Zaxby’s is an official sponsor of John Wes Townly, a NASCAR driver and the son of a Zaxby’s cofounder. Townly’s uniform and car both have the Zaxby’s name and logo visible. With this exposure, the sponsor increases brand awareness, fosters a positive image, and generates revenue in turn.

Duffy’s, The Greene Turtle, and Ninety Nine have all integrated sports promotions into their business strategy with flying colors. Sports restaurants have a big opportunity to offer mobile games, as The Greene Turtle does, or offer specific deals for when a certain player scores a touchdown or hits a home run during a game. Connecting with the customer and building strong relationships will create brand loyalty and increase visits.


Playball Greene TurtleThe Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille, a 37-location concept, has likewise found it challenging to maintain engagement throughout the year. Creating lasting memories and positive experiences for guests is one way to keep them returning. For the recent Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, The Greene Turtle ran a promotion that played off of the air-pressure controversy dubbed "Deflategate." From 6 o'clock to midnight on Super Bowl Sunday, beer prices were "deflated" by 49% for the "49th Big Game." This event was largely successful because it combined the most watched game in America with a relevant real-time deal.

It's widely known that major sporting events increase guest engagement, and March Maddess at The Greene Turtle has often been extremely prosperous. Its past promotions have included scratch-off games and even franchise giveaways if someone picked the perfect bracket. But The Greene Turtle needed more than just a profitable March Madness gimmick. Paytronix helped the popular sports resturaunt revitalize its marketing strategy with a solution involving a white label app, a well designed loyalty program and a mobile gaming platform. 

The mobile gaming component offers “pick’em”- style games that let members select the teams they believe will win upcoming professional and college matchups. If they select all of the winning teams correctly, they win a $10 reward. Another game on the app asks members to predict ingame outcomes in real time, and if the players answer 10 consecutive questions correctly, they likewise win a $10 reward. Paytronix found that guests who played the games visit 89% more and spend 58% more than The Greene Turtle’s average guests.

Playball Greene Turtle Stat

Your Restaurant Isn’t The Underdog

Playball HotdogNon-sports-themed restaurant concepts can effectively capitalize on sports-based promotions. Your brand can attract new customers, connect with the community, and engage with patrons in an entirely new way. Casual-dining restaurants like Ninety Nine, fast-casual concepts like Chipotle, and even quick-service dining options like McDonald’s have proven that you can participate in sports promotions without being a sports-themed restaurant.

Here are several types of promotions that would be both beneficial and easily implemented:


Offering discounts or coupons on food is a great way to prompt guests to visit. They increase sales, accelerate purchases, and ultimately encourage people to return later. In 2012, Chipotle’s Super Bowl campaign was billed as “the super big internationally televised professional football bowl game half-price party in a box.”4 Not being an official sponsor, Chipotle was prohibited from running an advertisement that used the term “Super Bowl.” However, the offer was creatively conveyed and guests who purchased six or more burritos on February 5th got their order for half off. It incentivized people to buy burrito boxes for their Super Bowl party, even though burritos may not be typical fare for that event. Imagine the possibilities available for these promotions when your restaurant concept has a loyalty program. There’s an opportunity for segmenting your customers and tailoring relevant discount and coupon promotions to their preferences and habits. Or better yet, you could target customers who wouldn’t have come in anyway, identify your lapsed guests, and generate business more strategically.

Promotion examples:

    • Receive 20% off of your meal if you wear your jersey to the restaurant on game day
    • Get 50% off your entire order after [insert team] wins using the code “team50”
    • Enjoy half-price drinks during the game
    • Buy one, get one free (BOGO)


Offers that give customers discounts or specials during sporting events are especially useful for sports-oriented restaurants and those that typically have the games playing on the TVs. The BOGO offers are a great idea if you want to increase the traffic per customer and incentivize people to bring friends along.

Offering 50% off after a team wins is commonly done for the NFL, especially by Papa John’s. However, a similar deal might be problematic if it were for an entire baseball season, which has 162 games. Keep in mind that the NBA and NHL have 82 regular-season games, whereas there are a more manageable 16 in the NFL. Knowing the details of a sport and its season is key when deciding on the kind of offer you might use.

Playball Hotdog 07FREE OFFERS

Offering 50% off after a team wins is commonly done for the NFL, especially by Papa John’s. However, a similar deal might be problematic if it were for an entire baseball season, which has 162 games. Keep in mind that the NBA and NHL have 82 regular-season games, whereas there are a more manageable 16 in the NFL. Knowing the details of a sport and its season is key when deciding on the kind of offer you might use.

The word “free” is a trigger word for practically every customer. Although most of us learned in our first day of economics class that nothing in life is free, that word continues to resonate with people. McDonald’s ran a popular campaign in 2015 when it partnered with the Golden State Warriors.5 At participating locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, customers received a free medium order of fries on the day after the Warriors won an away game. To redeem, you just had to use the McDonald’s app in a participating store.

Free offers, mobile apps, and loyalty programs are often intertwined. California Pizza Kitchen’s Pizza Dough® rewards program provides one example. With its points-based rewards, members earn $5 of Pizza Dough for every $100 spent via each POS or online ordering transaction. Today, more than 80% of Pizza Dough members interact with the brand’s rewards program using the app. Members receive visit-inspiring messages, identify themselves at the restaurant, and check their reward balances on their devices. CPK takes advantage of the Paytronix Data Insights premium analytics service, which allows deeper dives into customer and campaign data and informs their decisions on where to take the program next. By incorporating free offers, a mobile app, and a loyalty program, CPK could run sports promotions similar to the one done by McDonald’s.

Promotion examples:

    • Enjoy a free dessert when the [insert team] hit 3 or more home runs during a game or score at least 4 touchdowns
    • When the [insert team] win, kids eat free
    • Get a free side item if the [insert team] sweep the series


The McDonald’s promotion generated a sense of urgency because customers had a limited time during which they could claim the free fries. Since the McDonald’s app needed to be used to get them, there was also a significant increase in the number of app users. A lot of customers most likely made a meal out of their visit to the restaurant or at least purchased a drink to quench their thirst from the salty fries, which was great for business. “Free when” offers work best for locations in close proximity to the event and when the deal is offered for a limited time. Store-specific marketing for local sports helps build relationships with customers in the fan base.


This method is meant for large events like the Super Bowl, the World Series, and other ones where long-term planning is possible. For the World Series in 2015, more than 40 Kansas City restaurants participated in #BlueOctober and Royals-themed ran specials during the series.6 There is a certain sense of pride for hometowns events where teams are representing the community. Kansas City restaurants thrived when they promoted blue-colored foods and drinks. In 2014, the San Francisco Giants celebrated the same way with #OrangeOctober.

Promotion examples:

    • Craft team-inspired foods and drinks
    • Secure tickets for a giveaway
    • Host a viewing party


Event-oriented promotions capitalize on the pride exuded by the areas involved, but they can be much more than that. If your local team isn't in the Super Bowl this year, people aren't going to boycott the game (unless they are the most diehard fans of all time!). It's worth noting that the Super Bowl is the largest national stage for advertisers, as nearly one-third of the American population watches it.Creating hype around such events can engage and unite a community. The opportunities are even greater during the Olympic Games, because no matter what part of the country people live in, they take pride in rooting for Team USA.

How to hit it out of the park

Restaurants with sports-focused promotions aim to engage customers and boost game- day experiences before, during, and after the games themselves. They provide ways for fans to emotionally connect and be part of a larger community.

There are many benefits of going to a restaurant, especially one with a sports-related promotion, instead of attending the actual game. These include family friendliness, comfortable temperature on a hot or cold day, and price, to name a few. The Team Marketing Report calculated the cost of attending games in each market. For a family of four, the average cost to attend an NFL game in 2015 was $480.89. The fan cost index, or FCI, takes into account ticket prices, beer, soft drinks, hot dogs, parking, a program, and caps for the kids. The Jacksonville Jaguars have the lowest FCI at $347.60, while the Dallas Cowboys have the highest at $634.80 – with the cost of parking alone coming in at $75!8 In the NBA, resale ticket prices for the Golden State Warriors ranged anywhere from $300 to $500 during the 2015-2016 season. The Warriors were reigning champions and had another phenomenal season, setting numerous records, but if you lived in the Bay Area and wanted to bring your kids to a game, the cost was rather prohibitive.

Restaurants deliver game-day experiences without the high price of attending, offering more comfortable seating and a safe, family-friendly environment (safety is usually one of the biggest concerns for sports goers). Guests don’t have to deal with time-consuming traffic or high parking prices. Highlighting these aspects and offering compelling sports-themed promotions can be a game changer for your business.

Playball Most Important

Playball 1Know your audience.
What is the hometown team? If there isn’t one, which teams are the most watched? What sports does your audience follow?

Playball 2Know the season.
Is it playoff season? Are the Olympics a few weeks away? Is the Warriors’ Stephen Curry about to break another record?

Playball 3Understand your location.
Where are you in the United States? How relevant is a sporting event to your community? Are there specific events in your surrounding area, like the Boston Marathon in Massachusetts or the Iron Bowl in Alabama?

Playball 4Pinpoint the promotion you want to run.
Are you going to give a discount or offer a free item? What spor ting event is this for? How will your loyalty program be involved or considered in this process? Be a ble to segment and target offers to maximize your profitability. You should also pull loyalty into promotions to capture behavior and have the ability to target participants in the future.

Playball 5Spread the word with a sense of urgency.
How are you reaching your audience? Is it a paper advertisement or an announcement made during the sporting event? Are you passing out flyers or sending emails? When will the offer expire? How will you create urgency?

Playball 6Measure your success.
How much revenue was generated? Who came in? Have they continued to visit since the promotion ended?


Paytronix has the technology and resources that enable businesses to build loyalty and engage customers. More than 330 distinct brands have chosen to partner with us on their loyalty journeys, and we have helped them compel guests to choose their brand first and more frequently. Visit or call (617) 649-3330 to learn more about what we can offer your business.

  1. Forbes
  2. Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub
  4. Eater
  5. McDonalds®
  6. The Kansas City Star
  7. The New York Times
  8. Team Marketing Report
Demo Cta Image

Ready to take the next step?

Annual Loyalty Report: 2021
Loyalty programs shone through as one of the key survival tools

The first annual Paytronix Loyalty Report examines trends across the loyalty landscape in both restaurants and convenience stores throughout 2020