Pizza Hut is doubling down its football footprint after scoring a deal with EA Sports as the official sponsor of the Madden NFL 20 Championship Series, which is an esports event where fans of the popular video game compete throughout the season for a chance to win nearly $200,000.
As part of the deal, Pizza Hut will have its own virtual stadium, making it the “first-ever virtual stadium deal in esports,” according to the restaurant chain. Although the move comes just a year after Pizza Hut became the official sponsor of the NFL, it also arrives at a time when brands are increasingly marketing their products through competitive online video games, with hopes of getting their message across to an audience that many say is difficult to reach.
“Gamers used to be seen as the guys in the basement sitting alone, eating pizza and crushing Mountain Dew,” says Marianne Radley, chief brand officer at Pizza Hut. “It’s different now. Today, it is about community. It’s modern, high-tech and there’s elite competition. It’s evolved, so who doesn’t want to be a part of that?”
“Pizza Hut Stadium” will make its virtual debut this weekend, days before the NFL kicks off its regular season on Sept. 5. The company will promote the tournament through Madden’s official Twitch and YouTube channels with commentary similar to that found in real NFL games.
Radley says beyond driving brand relevancy and consideration, Pizza Hut doesn’t have any key performance indicators—or KPIs—for the Madden sponsorship, arguing that the deal is more about being a natural fit with the Pizza Hut brand. “Pizza and sports go hand-in-hand,” she says. “Pizza and esports go hand-in-hand.”
“There is a moment happening in terrestrial sports, esports, pop culture, brands and influencers—they are all converging,” Radley says. “This is a natural place for us. So from a KPI standpoint, there is none.”
The Madden NFL 20 Championship Series begins this weekend and then picks up again during the playoffs. Gamers who advance will compete once again during the Super Bowl and later, the NFL Draft, where the winner will be crowned.