Popeyes’ fortuitous partnership with the Raptors

How the QSR is getting millennials into its stores through a digital program that rewards fans when the team does well on the court.

About four years ago, Popeyes struck a deal to become the official chicken restaurant of the Toronto Raptors. The events that led to the agreement were rather serendipitous.

It began when the QSR’s agency, Bob’s Your Uncle, invited the three most active users on Popeyes’ Facebook channel to discuss what drove their engagement with the brand. That conversation led to further research that puzzled and amazed the agency: Popeyes’ core demo over-indexed on their love of the Raptors to an unusual degree (up to 300% according to the shop).

The association between the QSR and sports fans is not a common one, says Bob Froese, CEO of Bob’s Your Uncle, which specializes in food and beverage marketing. In fact, the agency’s research revealed a competitor under-indexed on the same metric, where sports fans were less inclined to eat at fast chicken restaurants. Wanting to leverage that opportunity for Popeyes, the agency began looking for new ways to activate its partnership with the Raptors.

It sat down with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment last summer and decided to quietly launch a digital promotion called “3 For Free” in November 2017. Timed with the relaunch of the Raptors Mobile App, the promotion offered fans three free chicken tenders during a 24-hour window every time the team scored more than 10 three-pointers in a single game, whether they played at home or away, and whether they won or lost.

The idea was inspired by Pizza Pizza’s longstanding Raptors promotion offering in-stadium fans a free slice of pizza the day following a game in which the team scores more than 100 points. But Popeyes’ wanted to broaden the scope, extending the promotion to everyone with the Raptors app (whether they were at the game or not), as a means of increasing store traffic and reaching more millennial customers (who can’t necessarily afford a ticket to a Toronto basketball game).

The initial November launch, while successful, presented an unexpected hurdle: three-pointers have become an important measurement of success for NBA teams, says Froese, so much so that a lot of teams, including the Raptors, have markedly improved. The Raptors’ previous three-year average had led Bob’s Your Uncle to believe they would score 10 three-pointers about 50% of the time. But, last year, the team met that benchmark five games in a row, sinking 19 in the first game alone.

“What we realized is that the stats of previous years didn’t account for the rapid escalation in talent,” says Froese. Franchises had lineups, and owners complained about the amount of free chicken being handed out.

So the agency hit pause after one game, took the holidays to iron the glitches, and relaunched in January having increased the benchmark to 12 three-pointers per game. Customers receive a push notification from the app when their team scores the required amount of baskets, and then they have 24 hours to redeem. The in-arena digital signage initially used to advertise the promotion has tapered off, but the program continues to grow.

Early hiccups aside, Froese says the activation has paid off for both Popeyes and the Raptors. The QSR saw the biggest same-store sales increase in a decade during the two weeks following the January launch and the activation has become the largest driver of Raptors app downloads, although Froese wouldn’t disclose specifics.

More importantly, the CEO says coupon redemptions are in the “few thousands” for every eligible game, with the conversion rate sitting at about 76%.

Popeyes is expected to open its 150th Canadian location later this year, with new stores in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.