Little Caesars takes over as the NFL’s official pizza

The Detroit-based chain will replace Pizza Hut, which had held the sponsorship since 2018.
Little Caesars NFL sponsorship
Photo courtesy of Little Caesars

The NFL will be getting its pizza Hot-N-Ready this year.

Little Caesars, the Detroit-based takeout chain known for its “Hot-N-Ready” carryout pizzas, on Tuesday said that it has inked a multi-year deal to become the official pizza sponsor of the National Football League. The deal instantly becomes Little Caesars’ biggest marketing partnership to date as the company looks to increase its visibility in the competitive pizza landscape.

It also represents yet another change in pizza sponsorship with the NFL. The deal had been held for years by Papa John’s, until the sides split after criticism of the league by founder John Schnatter over player protests in 2017. Pizza Hut then took over the sponsorship deal.

The agreement comes a month before NFL teams start their late-summer training camps, marking the official start to the season. The deal provides Little Caesars with exclusive marketing rights to connect the pizza brand with the NFL, its events and fans.

The company is promising social media games, new products, packaging and promotions before the start of the season that will continue throughout the course of the sponsorship. “The partnership aims to enhance the fun of game day by bringing the quality and convenience Little Caesars is known for to NFL fans across the country,” CEO Dave Scrivano said in a statement.

The deal also provides considerable visibility for the country’s third-largest pizza chain—though one that doesn’t quite get the attention of many of its publicly-traded competitors, such as Papa John’s and Domino’s. Little Caesars’ system sales grew 6.2% last year in the U.S., according to data from Restaurant Business sister company Technomic. All of that came from increases in average unit volumes, which now total more than $1 million per location.

The company has been known for its carryout pizzas, made in advance and sold at a set price, initially $5, known as “Hot-N-Ready.” It has expanded its use of order-ahead technology and now features white-label delivery through third-party aggregators, which it introduced in 2020 during the Super Bowl.

Whether the NFL sponsorship works to increase sales remains to be seen, however. Pizza Hut took over the sponsorship prior to the 2018 season. The deal appeared to give the company a boost in sales late that year and the first three months of 2019: Two-year same-store sales accelerated from a 3% decline in the second quarter of 2018 to a 4% increase in the first quarter of 2019.

But the company largely lost that momentum by the next season. Two-year same-store sales were down again by the 2019 football season.

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