TicketManager | Did Wingstop Really Win While Pistons Lost?

Media reports this week would have you believe the biggest beneficiary of the Detroit Pistons’ historic 28-game single-season losing streak is not any of the other NBA Eastern Conference teams. Instead, they say, it is Pistons sponsor Wingstop.

The chain’s Detroit metro locations are running a promotion this season offering customers who purchase other items five free boneless wings after a Pistons victory. When the team broke its streak Saturday, employees of multiple stores reported it was one of the busiest nights they had ever seen as an “overwhelming” number of customers flocked to take advantage of the offer for the first time since the club’s last win on October 28.

The increased traffic and sales are a positive result for Wingstop. As was the increasing amount of local and national attention focused on the promotion and the brand while the losing streak grew, in particular through memes and other social media posts throughout December lamenting the Pistons’ lack of success on the court and the dearth of free wings that accompanied it.

But in sponsorship, real success comes when all parties benefit, not just one. At the height of the buzz surrounding when fans would again be eligible for free food, Wingstop missed an open three-pointer by not tweaking the promotion to reward fans’ patience, not to mention take a little bit of heat off the team.

The company could have earned not just traffic and visibility, but also tremendous goodwill by temporarily changing the terms of the promotion to include a more easily obtainable goal than a Pistons win. There would have been some logistical challenges involved in such a course correction, but nothing insurmountable, especially considering the upside.

As a sponsor of a team with a loyal fanbase, Wingstop is in a different position from brands such as Pop-Tarts, Cheez-Its and Duke’s Mayo, all of which scored big in terms of awareness and virality as a result of their buzzworthy bowl game sponsorship activations.

As a recent post pointed out, bowl games are different animals. They lack a consistently ardent fan following, thus eliminating the need for a win-win-win situation. Almost all other sponsors, and particularly team partners, should include real benefits to fans, consumers and other stakeholders in their calculation of success.

Based on its recent business success, Wingstop is poised to become more active in sponsorship. In November, the company reported a 26 percent rise in quarterly revenue, to $117.1 million, and 46 percent growth 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 percent,” said Michael Skipworth, Wingstop Restaurants, Inc. 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.”

Although Skipworth’s comments were specifically about sports media advertising, Wingstop’s Pistons experience likely will encourage it to consider other partnerships. Interested properties will be wise to bring their fans to the table when discussing assets, benefits and activations.