The NCAA Basketball Tournament is normally one of Buffalo Wild Wings’ busiest times of the year, but with March Madness shut down, the chicken wing chain has tried to find ways to still wrap its arms around sports.
On April 10, Buffalo Wild Wings will stream a H-O-R-S-E game between former Jackson State basketball manager Thomas “Snacks” Lee and Instagram influencer Maxisnicee as part of its new #SportsLiveOn campaign. The stream will air at 8 p.m. ET on the Buffalo Wild Wings Twitch Channel. Calling the game will be Tim Kitzrow, a voice-over actor best known for his work on NBA Jam.
A brand spokesperson said it’s the first in a series of “Sports Live On – Live!” series and future iterations could include challenges in soccer, football or golf.
“Ever since sports were canceled or postponed, we’ve been looking for ideas to engage with sports fans to help fill the void,” Seth Freeman, Buffalo Wild Wings chief marketing officer, said. “The H-O-R-S-E game was inspired by all the social media videos we’ve seen of people continuing to play sports at home, from wiffle ball bat flips to mini-hoop dunk contests.”
“We wanted to get in on the action ourselves and, knowing anything we did would have to be virtual; we figured a game of H-O-R-S-E made a lot of sense,” he said.
With its #SportsLiveOn campaign, Buffalo Wild Wings creates a challenge for its followers revolving around the creative athletic events seen during social distancing mandates and shares the best clips on its social channels.
The campaign came from the executive’s desire to stay involved in sports even as live-action came to a halt, including one of its biggest marketing pillars.
As an NCAA partner, Freeman said the company was able to monitor the status of the NCAA Tournament and stay in-the-know of the decision-making process. It also allowed Buffalo Wild Wings to stay quick on their feet with a variety of marketing efforts in the works ranging from TV ads, along with experiential, social media, and public relations campaigns.
In an interview about the company’s March Madness plans before the coronavirus outbreak, Freeman declined to put a figure to the importance of March Madness to the brand, saying “It’s a big-time for us, always one of the biggest times of the calendar year from a revenue standpoint.”
With no action on the court, those plans, including one for a pop-up bed and breakfast in Chicago, were shelved. With mandatory social distancing practices across the country, it’s not an easy circumstance to swallow for restaurants. The chain’s 1,200 dining rooms were shut down across the country during a month it was likely to see heavy traffic and shifted to a to-go only model. Freeman did say the takeout and delivery orders have exceeded expectations.
“We had contingencies in place depending on the outcome, so we quickly were able to pivot to adapt to the situation at hand,” Freeman said. “We’re equally as disappointed as our fans were that the tournament was canceled.”
That adjustment includes off-premise promotions such as free delivery, as well as extensions of its buy-one-get-one deals.
Freeman said the choice to continue to lean on sports despite a lack of professional broadcast offerings was a no-brainer.
“Buffalo Wild Wings was built around a love for sports; it’s in our DNA,” he said. “As we’ve all seen, sports fans have found new and unique ways to keep competing during this time. So, even without live sports, we felt it was important to make the most of the situation and shift to a strategy that leaned into the makeshift sports people were playing at home.”
But even when the sports world returns to normal, Buffalo Wild Wings may have found a new campaign to keep itself tied to sports.
“While we hope live sports can return very soon, we won’t rule out keeping the Sports Live On campaign going once things return to normalcy,” Freeman said.