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How a Losing Pistons Team Created the Hottest Wings in Detroit

  • Detroit-area restaurant locations are slammed after Pistons break losing streak.
  • Chain has experienced an extended rise in its revenue, net income, with sports standing as a key pillar.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A run-of-the-mill local promotion with the Detroit Pistons turned into an unprecedented level of business and national-level publicity for the Wingstop restaurant chain, ironically by virtue the team’s historic losing streak.

This past fall, Detroit-area Wingstop locations began offering five free boneless wings to customers who ordered with the promotional code “PISTONS” following a victory by the team. The season-long offer represented a common tie-in between a restaurant brand and a local pro franchise. But as that promotion continued, the Pistons endured a 28-game, two-month losing streak that tied an NBA record for futility, set a new mark for a slide confined to a single season, and only ended on Dec. 30.

Waiting for a Pistons win, however, only heightened the anticipation among fans. A victory over Toronto to end 2023 prompted a run of business at local Wingstops topping all prior measures, and the redemption began a viral craze for the brand with an extended series of posts by fans, media, and influencers about the free wing offer finally becoming relevant.

Wingstop itself got in on the social media action, drawing more than 2.6 million views for a X post reading “Let there be wings” over a sped-up clip of a crowded series of escalators. 

Extended Rise

The unexpected success of the Pistons’ promotion tops a furious run of growth for Wingstop in recent months, with sports representing a key part of its marketing strategy and overall expansion.

The company has seen its stock rise more than 40% since the Oct. 30 start of that Pistons losing streak, and it reported in November a 26.4% rise in quarterly revenue, to $117.1 million, as well as a 46% jump in net income, to $19.5 million. 

“We have an elevated amount of ad fund investment to deploy, growing consistent with our system sales growth of roughly 30%,” said Michael Skipworth, Wingstop president and CEO, during a recent earnings call. “That’s allowing us to show up in more premium placements like live sports. We’ve shown up in the NFL in a big way. We’re showing up in the NBA right now.”

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