Applebee's Scores First NFL 'Casual Dining' Sponsorship


The home of the Dollarita is now a key sponsor of the NFL.

Today Applebee’s Grill + Bar and the National Football League announced they have entered into a multiyear partnership agreement. The partnership designates Applebee’s as the official “grill + bar” of the NFL, the first brand to hold a longterm sponsorship in the “casual dining” category.

Applebee’s has been a sponsor of the NFL pregame show, ”Football Night in America” for NBC's ”Sunday Night Football” since 2019. The NFL briefly had a casual dining sponsor with Applebee’s Dine Brand’s sister company IHOP in 2009, but has not had a sponsor in the category since. The NFL also has Subway as its QSR sponsor and Little Caesars as its pizza partner.

Applebee’s, a 1500+-unit chain, is kicking off the partnership, which intends to “leverage the entire NFL calendar” beginning with next week’s NFL draft. The company is offering 20 free Applebee’s Boneless Wings with a $40 online purchase April 25-27.



The new partnership has national broadcast and online advertising efforts in the works, in addition to “presence at NFL tentpole events,”  per the brand’s release.

QSR Insider spoke with Applebee’s CMO Joel Yashinsky about the sponsorship and what the brand has in store for NFL fans and Applebee’s customers alike.

The discussion has been lightly edited for clarity.

QSR Insider: Congrats on the partnership with the NFL. Why the big leap to becoming one of the main NFL sponsors now?

Yashinsky: It was really all about understanding how our guests love the NFL. We do a lot of work with a lot of other leagues too, but the NFL has sort of been the one where we've had just great success.

For example, the partnership with NBC and “Sunday Night Football” really led us to believe that there was a key interest from our guests that could be leveraged to an even broader and bigger scale.

And that's really what we're going to do: Just scale up. It's been a natural evolution to go as a full partner of the NFL. We think it just creates even better synergies.

We can now take that NFL partnership with NBC and make it an even greater enhancement for the guest experience, providing opportunities for our guests to engage with the NFL.

The research showed that our guests do over-index as NFL fans. We'll still remain a great place for those who may not be NFL fans, but maybe we can help get them there as well.

QSR Insider: How are you promoting the partnership?

Yashinsky: We just had a really fun activation with Team Whistle for Brandon Aiyuk, who is a great wide receiver [he assumes the role of a “new team member” at Applebee's in an online video].

It is so on-brand in terms of who Applebee's is, and that's exactly the type of approach you can expect when it comes to how we activate the sponsorship: leveraging the great personalities within the NFL, looking for ways to engage with our guests. I think it was just a great little tease as to some of the ideas that we're working on.

QSR Insider: What else can we expect in terms of advertising the new partnership?

Yashinsky: I think you'll find it really integrated into everything we do. The power of the NFL is great, right? And we want people to know that, come Sundays or Thursdays or Mondays, when NFL games are on, we're going to have some great activations in the restaurant that folks will enjoy.

To be honest with you, we've got too many great ideas. So finding the best and perfect one or two to help kick off the season in September is going to be a lot of fun for us. They're all going to be engaging and connect the NFL brand with Applebee's in a way that is fun for the guests.

Also, some of our biggest and best partners at Applebee's are also sponsors of the NFL. Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, Barefoot Wines, are all served in our restaurants. So there's a natural synergy that's also going to be developed in terms of some of the creative content, as well as some of the promotional opportunities that we see.

QSR Insider: Are you thinking of more experiential type events in restaurant during the games?

Yashinsky: I would say yes to that: in-Restaurant, promotional elements, potentially some sweepstakes. There's a lot of different things we're looking to use. We have our Club Applebee's program with over eight million members, and we're going to give them some opportunities as we build upon the loyalty aspect of what the NFL can bring for us.

The beauty of this partnership is that it just opens up a whole wealth of opportunities for us to leverage our relationship with our guests. And that's exactly what we're planning to do.


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