The Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) category looms large in the sponsorship universe, namely in the promotion/sweepstakes arena. McDonald’s dominates the space with over 60–primarily across major pro sports and colleges–followed by Chick-fil-A (36), Papa Johns (34), Dunkin’ (28), and Wendy’s (28). Let’s take a closer look at some of their latest activations, designed to woo faithful sports fans with tasty fast-food fare.
McDonald’sThe beloved home of the Golden Arches partners with all major US pro sports and some college teams, often in the name of delish giveaways. A common thread? Fans have to download the McDonald’s app in some instances to grab a bite of the action.
When the opposing team misses a field goal inside M&T Stadium, Baltimore Ravens fans can redeem a free 6-piece Chicken McNugget the next day. On the ice, the chain’s huge NHL presence includes the “McNugget Minute,” where enthusiasts across the league can cash in on the same Chicken McNugget deal when a home team scores in the last minute of a regulation period.
Mickey D’s also offers the free 6-piece Chicken McNugget to Cleveland Guardians fans when the team steals a base at home–the same prize Portland Traiblazers’ fans can grab when the team scores 100 points in an NBA matchup. Meanwhile, when DC United forces a shutout in MLS, fans can bag two Happy Meals for the price of one.
At the collegiate level, fans in attendance at an Illinois Fighting Illini football home game can text “McDouble” for a free McDouble burger when the team forces a three-and-out. Although these prizes differ in terms of what needs to happen on the field of play for fans to win their prizes, there is one crucial commonality between all of them. Fans have to download the McDonald’s App to redeem their prizes.
Chick-fil-AThe Atlanta-based chicken sandwich titan launched the “Chick-fil-A Fowl Shot” promotion at Utah Jazz home games, where attending fans can win free chicken when an opposing player misses two free throws in the fourth quarter–an offer now run by several other professional and collegiate basketball teams. The chain also maintains a sizeable presence in MLB with activations like “Chick-fil-A Tuesdays,” a promotion at Washington Nationals Tuesday home games, where fans in the Metro DC area receive a free reward through the brand’s app.
Papa JohnsWhen the Washington Wizards score 115 or more points, fans get 50% off regular-price pizzas the next day, with a specific promo code visible on the jumbotron–a deal also available to Orlando Magic and LSU Tigers football fans when their teams are victorious. Washington Capitals fans also get half-price pies when the team score five or more goals during a home game, as do the Tampa Bay Rays’ faithful when their team scores six runs at home.
Dunkin’At the start of the 2022 NFL Draft, Dunkin’ gave fans a chance to win a year of free Dunkin’, an autographed Daniel Jones Jersey, and two tickets to a 2022 Giants game if they correctly predicted top picks. Meanwhile, the NY Mets, NY Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Cleveland Guardians gave fans a chance to win Dunkin’ gift cards if they retweeted designated Dunkin’-sponsored tweets last season.
Wendy’sFans in the stands at Denver Nuggets home games can get free Wendy’s when the team notches a double-double, while Milwaukee Bucks fans can grab a free small Frosty when they win at home. When the Orlando Magic hits ten or more 3-pointers, fans get a free honey butter chicken biscuit as part of the chain’s “Magic Mornings” giveaway. In a unique promotion with the Cleveland Browns, fans could tune into the Wendy's Game Day Weather Report each game day to score a free in-app offer: depending on the temperature at kickoff, a small Frosty (on hot days) or a small chili (on cold ones) at participating Wendy's outlets the next day.
As QSR brands score big with these types of promotions/giveaways, what other categories are poised to follow suit? Forty brands in fintech are already utilizing promotions–led by Coinbase, which partners with social media influencers, athletes, and models in 70% of such deals. Brands in the Daily Fantasy Sports/Betting Services category are poised to grow this asset: in the past year, only five of these brands activated promotion/sweepstakes partnerships within major US pro sports–led by DraftKings, which offered different team- and league-specific promotion codes for free or discounted bets.
Fried chicken is a perennial fast food favorite in America–and in the last 12 months, more than 100 brands bought sponsorships or media in the QSR Chicken category.
Brands bought the following assets most frequently:
Not surprisingly, social posts top the list of QSR Chicken’s favorite marketing tactics. The category counted more than 740 deals, totaling nearly 5K posts, across all partnerships in the last year. Each deal engaged an average 17.6K followers, with total engagement across all posts exceeding 13M.
Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane’s have the most sponsorships, and are also the most active brands on social media.
The Georgia-based fast food restaurant–whose chicken sandwiches boast an almost cult-like following–leads the QSR Chicken category with more than 195 sponsorship deals.
The brand has cornered the sports market in its headquarter city of Atlanta, partnering with teams including the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta United FC, and the Atlanta Braves. It also struck sponsorship gold this year thanks to deals with MLB 2022 champions, the Houston Astros, and Los Angeles FC, which won the MLS 2022 Cup in thrilling fashion on November 5.
The chicken finger eatery takes the second spot with over 145 total sponsorship deals. One of the biggest brands to sponsor college teams and athletes with more than 25 endorsements, its partners include University of Georgia quarterback, Stetson Bennett IV, LSU women’s basketball player, Alexis Morris, and Kansas men’s basketball standout, Mitch Lightfoot.
Raising Cane’s also sponsors 3 MLB teams: the Houston Astros, the Cincinnati Reds, and the St. Louis Cardinals. As the country’s fastest growing chicken chain continues to expand aggressively–opening 100 new locations across 10 new markets this year, including PA, NJ, and DE–it will be interesting to see if the Plano, Texas-based company’s partnership strategy reflects these bold moves.
Not surprisingly, Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) Burger brands are big players within US sports when it comes to sponsorship deals. In college athletics, 31% of the 153 brands have at least one partnership, while McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Whataburger lead the pack with 55, 40 and 34 deals respectively.
The 5 major professional sports leagues are also prime targets for the category; 22% of brands have at least one deal with a team. Wendy’s (84), McDonald’s (63), Sonic (52), and Jack-in-the-Box (46) have the most partnerships with major pro teams.
Properties with the most QSR Burger deals
San Diego Padres: 15 (6 brands: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Sonic, Jack in the Box, Smashburger, Hodad’s)
Los Angeles Dodgers: 13 (6 brands: McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Wendy’s, In-n-Out Burger, Carl’s Jr., Shake Shack)
Houston Texans: 12 (4 brands: Jack in the Box, Whataburger, Freddy Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Foreign Policy)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 11 (5 brands: Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers, Jack in the Box, Whataburger, Sonic, Wendy’s)
Nashville Predators: 11 (4 brands: Wendy’s, Hardee’s, Sonic, Jack in the Box)
Across all property types, McDonald’s tops the deal list by a huge margin:
Top 5 brands ranked by total deals (Sponsorship & Media)
McDonald’s - 925
The chain has over 100 deals with local news networks & shows
Wendy’s - 553
Sonic - 210
Burger King - 170
Whataburger - 145
QSR Burger brands favor Instagram and TikTok for their social sponsorships: a whopping 86% of the 14 million followers engaged by the category’s sponsored posts span the two channels. Total engagement was higher on Instagram (with over 8.5 million) versus TikTok (more than 5 million).
Overall Category Stats
Total engagement: 16,088,219
Avg engagement per post: 1,363
Avg engagement per deal: 14,441
Total Deals: 1,114
Posts: 10,504 (9 posts per deal)
Bally Sports Southwest posted the most (898 times for Jack in the Box)
QSR Burger brands averaged 876 posts per month in last 12 months
As a category, QSR Burger makes great use of prominent musicians and influencers to engage millions of followers.
On TikTok–where 51 deals generated 86 posts, vs. Instagram’s 439 deals and 1,381 posts–QSR Burger brands’ average engagement per post (57,462) and per deal (107,889) eclipsed engagement on Instagram (5,949 and 19,771, respectively).
Top 5 properties w/ QSR Burger-sponsored TikTok posts ranked by total engagement (minimum 2 posts):
Payton King - McDonald’s: 1,501,758 (Influencer Payton King has the highest average engagement for QSR Burger-sponsored TikTok posts with 750,879 (14.23% of his followers)
Mariah Carey - McDonald’s: 919,583
Anthony & Ana - McDonald’s: 219,648
Soy Nguyen - McDonald’s: 150,678
Sofia Bella - McDonald’s: 90,598
As evidenced by the lists above, when it comes to QSR burger brands, McDonald’s dominates on numerous fronts. With total engagement topping more than 11M followers on social media, the chain garners a whopping 67% of all QSR Burger engagement. The megabrand also accounts for 35% of all QSR Burger posts–averaging 310 posts per month–and has 396 social deals that generated 3,727 posts over the last year.
McDonald’s also averages engagement of 2,531 followers per post and 27,188 per property. The Calgary Flames posted the most for the brand in the past 12 months: the team’s 434 posts engaged 600,474 followers.
On TikTok, McDonald’s also reigns supreme, with total engagement of 4,359,806 followers–a staggering 82% of all QSR Burger category engagement. Its 63 posts comprise 75% of the category’s sponsored posts on the channel, and average engagement numbers 64,115 per post and 136,244 per property, with 3.17% of the brand’s followers liking, sharing, or commenting on content. The rest of the top 5 QSR Burger brands have 10 properties and 14 posts combined on TikTok–meaning McDonald’s has 4.5 times more branded content on the channel than its competitors.
Of the top 10 properties (ranked by total engagement) that partner with McDonald’s on TikTok, 8 are influencers; Mariah Carey and Celine Tran are the only non-influencers. The brand recently teamed up with TikTok viral sensation Tisakorean to drop “Static,” an end-of-summer anthem celebrating fans’ love of Sprite.
On October 3rd, McDonald’s unveiled its first campaign with streetwear brand, Cactus Plant Flea Market, to launch a limited edition Happy Meal for adults: the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box. Predictably, the campaign is already getting heavy exposure on TikTok.
More than 1,000 brands have partnered with collegiate athletes in NIL deals over the last 15 months, and that number continues to be on the rise.
Through August 2022, 1,637 NIL partnerships have been inked across college sports, which collectively include 3,381 social posts. Engagement across all deals stood at 34M– averaging 20,839 per deal–while average engagement per post numbered 7,069, with 5.14% of followers engaging.
Here’s a breakdown of the top 5 industry categories in the NIL space by number of deals, with a quick look at their respective leading players.
The Players Trunk : 60% of the brand’s overall NIL partnerships are with men’s college basketball athletes.
Adidas: The brand has NIL deals with athletes in 8 sports, while 51% of its NIL partnerships are with female athletes (21% women’s soccer; 15% softball; 15% women’s volleyball).
American Eagle Outfitters: 46% of American Eagle Outfitters’ NIL partnerships are with college football athletes–30% of whom play for Ohio State. LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne’s 9 American Eagle Outfitters posts have racked up a total engagement of 2,333,957 so far.
Players’ Lounge: 91% of the gaming brand’s overall partnerships are with college athletes, of which 79% are football players.
Epic Games: College football players comprise 54% of the brand’s NIL partnerships are with football athletes. While female basketball players only account for 13% of its deals, University of Oregon’s Sedona Prince tops Epic’s partner list for highest total social engagement (25,489) and average engagement per post (12,745).
Mercury NFT: 68% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college athletes: 62% in men’s Basketball and 6% in football.
Raising Cane’s: While 42% of the chicken finger specialist’s NIL partnerships are with football athletes, the brand is the only QSR that has a partnership with a (female) wrestler–Marlee Smith (Arizona State). Football player Stetson Bennet boasts the brand’s highest total and average engagement, at 46,964 and 23,482, respectively.
Krystal: 59% of the Georgia-based burger maker’s overall partnerships are with college athletes (37% football; 12% men’s basketball; 10% women’s basketball). Georgia women’s soccer player Abby Boyan is its one NIL deal outside of football and basketball.
Bojangles: 27% of the chicken-and-biscuit brand’s NIL partnerships are with female athletes (23% women’s basketball; 5% softball), while 52% are with football players.
FTX: 65% of the brand’s NIL partnerships are with football players, while 23% of FTX’s overall partnerships are with college athletes (17% football; 6% men’s basketball). Sacramento State men’s basketball player Deshaun Highler totaled 19 posts for FTX, with a total engagement of 33,233.
H&R Block: 94% of the tax prep company’s partnerships are with female athletes. South Carolina women’s basketball player Zia Cooke leads its list of athlete endorsers: 5 of her posts for the brand scored total engagement of 200,248 followers.
Current: 53% of the fintech brand’s NIL partnerships are with football players. Nebraska Women’s volleyball standout Lexi Rodriguez and Arizona State women’s wrestler Marlee Smith boast Current’s top two total engagements on social, at 8,628 and 1,858, respectively.
UPTIME Energy: 44% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college softball players. It’s 1 of 6 brands (along with Magic Spoon, Champs Sports, DoorDash, DSW, and Met-Rx) to have a partnership with a men’s soccer athlete–Jared Panson of Brandeis University–and 1 of 2 non-alcoholic beverage brands (along with Rowdy Energy) to partner with a lacrosse athlete.
Simple Truth: 55% of its overall partnerships are with men’s basketball players.
Six Star Pro Nutrition: 24% of the brand’s total partnerships are with college basketball athletes (16% men’s; 8% women’s). It’s the only non-alcoholic beverage partnered with a (female) golfer: Stanford University’s Rachel Heck.
The top 5 brands by number of deals in the NIL space are:
Hooters: 40% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college football players. One of its notable NIL deals outside the sport is with University of Arkansas golfer John Daly II, son of professional golfer John Daly.
Players’ Lounge (see above)
FTX (see above)
Raising Cane’s (see above)
Degree: The deodorant brand has deals with athletes across 11 college sports; 24% of its NIL partnerships are with female athletes.
As the momentum of Esports continues to snowball, Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR) are increasingly taking a bite of the action.
More than 30 QSR brands–each with nearly 3 sponsorship deals on average within Esports–currently buy sponsorship/media within Esports, while 22% have 5 or more. The top-five brands ranked by number of deals are:
McDonald’s also ranks No. 1 in sponsorship growth, with more than 10 new deals with Esports properties, mainly teams and leagues, over the last 12 months. In June, multinational Esports organization Gen.G and McDonald's renewed their McDonald's Crew League partnership, designed to recruit and retain employees through gaming.
Other recent link-ups include Chipotle’s April collaboration with gaming influencer Karl Jacobs, to promote the launch of its new pollo asado chicken menu item with a limited-time “Karl Jacobs Burrito.” Papa John’s partnered with Esports tournament operator Beyond the Summit (BTS) in May to launch a Super Smash Bros-centered community campaign.
QSR brands and Esports organizations utilize social media posts in more than 85% of deals. Out of the top-five emerging assets, Twitter reigns supreme: images, videos, and text posts on the channel take the first, fourth, and fifth spots, respectively.
In total, there are currently 1,100-plus branded posts across more than 130 deals; the most-engaged post, at more than 600K followers, was between Jacobs and Chipotle. Engagement totals more than 3.5 million across all social posts, with the average engagement per deal just north of 28K.
What better season than summer for frozen treats? The industry is also feeling those warm-weather vibes: of the more than 60 brands overall buying sponsorship or media during the last year in the QSR - Ice Cream & Yogurt category, the top 3 brands ranked by sponsorship or media deals are Dairy Queen (200+), Kona Ice (50+), and Tropical Smoothie Cafe (35+).
Minor League Baseball is a huge target market for these three brands. Kona Ice leads with 46% of all its deals within MiLB, followed by Dairy Queen at 35%, and Tropical Smoothie Cafe at 11% within the league.
Dairy Queen became the Official Treat & Burger of Major League Baseball this season. The perennial fan favorite has had projected signage in the lower bowl, as well as multiple tags by MLB social media profiles across platforms. When someone hits a Grand Slam during the season Dairy Queen will be tagged on social media by the MLB as they are the sponsor of all Grand Slams this year.
Baseball is big business for Dairy Queen: 62% of its deals are within the baseball industry, across the MLB and its athletes, the MiLB, collegiate baseball, and independent baseball leagues.
Meanwhile, Kona Ice has a vendor relationship within 49% of its overall deals. The brand’s penchant for targeting amateur sports is clear: 34% of Kona’s total deals are within the Power 5 Collegiate conferences or MiLB. The NFL, where Kona is a vendor for five teams, ranks second, with 9% of its total deals. While headquartered in Kentucky, the brand’s top market by number of deals is Indianapolis, where Kona’s vendor relationship with five properties includes the Indiana Pacers.
Rounding out the top 3, Tropical Smoothie Cafe takes aim at collegiate sports, with 32% of all deals within the category, and Division 1 bowl games/tournaments their prime prospects. Since 2019, Tropical Smoothie has been an exclusive title sponsor of the Frisco Bowl, a Division 1 college football game in Frisco, Texas, which was renamed the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl.
A category dominated by three giant corporations, Papa Johns, Domino’s, & Pizza Hut, the QSR Pizza category has over 180 active brands buying sponsorship / media. 33% of all deals in this category include Television Ads. On average, each QSR pizza brand with a deal has three sponsorships. This number increased to 5 when adding broadcast media deals.
As the Official Pizza of March Madness, Pizza Hut created the "Struggle Bus" to help those who find themselves struggling by delivering relief in the form of pizza delivery on an actual bus. Pizza Hut has over 65 sponsorship deals and over 100 broadcast media deals. Their top market for sponsorship and media deals is Dallas-Fort Worth, where Pizza Hut’s headquarters is located.
In Dec '21, Burnley Football Club and Papa Johns announced a partnership. This deal includes a new mobile unit to serve Papa Johns pizza at home games. Papa Johns has more than 100 sponsorship deals with 44% of those deals including TV-Visible signage. Competing in the state of Texas with Pizza Hut, their top market is Houston.
Domino’s has over 30 sponsorships across the NCAA which accounts for nearly 45% of their overall deals. 54% of their sponsorships include Interior Signage, whether it is TV-Visible or other signage like Digital Ads on the Videoboard, Dasher Board or Ribbon Board signage.