While there are some signs that the recession has affected the big-money spectacle of Super Bowl XLIII — Playboy has cancelled its annual party, and big-time marketers General Motors and FedEx will not advertise during the game — plenty of restaurants across the country plan to make hay on Super Bowl Sunday.
Nowhere is that more apparent than the home markets of the game’s contestants, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. The Super Bowl, which takes place on Sunday, is in Tampa, Fla., this year.
Pittsburgh-based Eat’n Park has been particularly aggressive with its marketing efforts, selling Game Day Gift Packs of one dozen of the chain’s signature Smiley Cookies decorated in the Steelers’ black-and-gold color scheme. The packs also include two Terrible Towels, which Steelers fans wave at the team’s home games. Game Day Gift Packs sell for $24.99, and Party Size Game Day Gift Packs are available for $49.99 and include 24 Steeler Smiley Cookies and four Terrible Towels.
“This is another big year for the Steelers and for Pittsburgh,” said Kevin O’Connell, senior vice president of marketing for Eat’n Park. “We’re offering this special deal so Steelers Nation can get what they need to cheer on the Steelers: Steelers Smiley Cookies and the Terrible Towel.”
Eat’n Park, an 80-unit, family-dining chain, offered free shipping on all gift packs Jan. 21-26.
O’Connell said it sold out of the gift packs, moving more than 4,000 orders on the www.smileycookie.com  website. In all, more than 5,000 dozen Smiley Cookies were sold online in January, and online sales at of Smiley Cookies in the first four weeks of 2009 exceeded the entire year’s sales of cookies in 2008. Eat’n Park is running approximately 20 percent ahead of its cookie sales pace in January 2006, when the Steelers last made it to the Super Bowl.
In addition, the chain will close all of its locations throughout three states at 3 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday so that its employees have time to get home and watch the game.
In Arizona, several restaurants are offering free food to customers who show up wearing Cardinals gear or the team’s signature red.
According to local ABC affiliate KNXV in Phoenix, all Arizona units of Chipotle Mexican Grill will provide a free burrito, taco, bowl or salad to fans wearing red the Saturday before the Super Bowl from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. From now through Super Bowl Sunday, Del Taco restaurants in Arizona will give a free churro to any customer wearing Cardinals apparel. Also, local restaurant Sprinkles Cupcakes is offering a free cupcake to any fan wearing Cardinals apparel and is marketing a special Cardinals box filled with red-velvet cupcakes decorated to spell “Go Cards.”
Several restaurants and clubs in Tampa will promote specials and host events, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. One of the resort’s restaurants, Floyd’s Nightclub, will host the exclusive “Revolution” party Friday night, an invitation-only “Rock & Soul Super Saturday Night” event and the Official Game Day After Party.
Many national chains, despite have little to no ties to Pittsburgh, Arizona or Tampa, also will promote meal deals and events aggressively.
Carrollton, Texas-based T.G.I. Friday’s said it would host a nationwide party at all of its more than 1,000 restaurants on Jan. 31, called “The Game We Can’t Name Eve.” While celebrating the “big game” — T.G.I. Friday’s is not allowed to use the Super Bowl trademark — the chain will offer special cocktails, including Arizona Lemonade and Pittsburgh Punch, in addition to half-price appetizers with the purchase of an entrée, and coupons for $5 off party platters redeemable the next day for the Super Bowl.
“While we can’t reference the game’s name or the teams playing, we can assure you that fans from Arizona and Pittsburgh will love the drinks we’ve dreamt up for our party the night before the big game,” said Andrew Jordan, senior vice president of marketing. “It doesn’t matter who you’re rooting for or if you care about the outcome of the ‘S---r B--l’ at all, you’ll love these drinks and special plans we have in store for our guests that night.”