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Buffalo Wild Wings takes aim at NFL lockout

TV spots to ask viewers to take a stand against the lockout via Facebook, online petition

Buffalo Wild Wings is hoping to stave off a possible sales-damaging dilemma by asking viewers to take a stand against the National Football League lockout.

The 740-plus-unit casual-dining chain is debuting TV spots during March Madness basketball games containing a tag requesting that viewers help to “save our season” by visiting the brand’s Facebook page and adding their names to the online petition.

The current work stoppage and standoff between the league and the NFL Players Association could result in a shortened or cancelled professional-football season next year. Minneapolis-based Buffalo Wild Wings is one of many casual-dining operators that derives a percentage of their traffic on Sundays in the fall and winter during NFL games.

Two restaurant securities analysts recently wrote that a prolonged lockout would represent a highly unfavorable short-term hit to Buffalo Wild Wings’ earnings.

Stephen Anderson of Miller Tabak & Co. estimated that 10 percent of the chain’s sales are tied to NFL broadcasts. David Tarantino of Robert W. Baird & Co. wrote that cancelled NFL games could erode the brand’s average weekly sales by as much as 15 percent during the season.

“We know we’ll have a lot of eyes on our ads during the next few weeks,” Kathy Benning, Buffalo Wild Wings executive vice president of marketing and brand development said in a statement. “This is our way of saying: ‘We want a football season. Our guests want a football season. Let’s get this thing settled so we can all just focus on the game.’”

The chain not only derives much of its restaurant traffic during NFL games in the fall, but it also caters to football fans in other ways, such as hosting fantasy football draft parties and promoting its Fantasy Football Blogger League. Principals for the latter program will contact the thousands of fantasy football players with whom they interact during the season to rally more people to the cause.

Jeremy Burke, marketing brand manager for Buffalo Wild Wings, said the advertising and social-networking efforts are meant to represent the best interests of football fans, who represent a major portion of the chain’s customer base.

“We wanted to draw awareness to the issue and be the voice of our fans,” he said. “We’re trying to get them in one spot to ultimately send a letter on behalf of all our fans to both sides of the disagreement.”

Buffalo Wild Wings is preparing for a drawn-out battle between NFL players and owners and will consider the full range of contingencies, although a quick resolution is the chain’s preference Burke said.

“We’re still going to be the destination for sports viewing whether there’s an NFL season or not,” he said. “But we thought we still should build attention for the subject, and what better time to do it when all the eyes are on our broadcast media?”

Burke would not speculate about whether Buffalo Wild Wings would deploy marketing resources similarly in the event of a lockout in the National Basketball Association, which could possibly occur at the end of this pro-basketball season in June. He added, however, that the chain’s guests undoubtedly will not stand for lost NFL games, which spurred Buffalo Wild Wings to create the commercial tag “save our season” and the Facebook petition.

“We don’t want to take any sides here,” Burke said. “But it’s important that somebody speaks up for the fans. The players and owners have most of the voices in this standoff.”

Buffalo Wild Wings operates or franchises its restaurants in 45 states.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]

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