Fast food frenzy: 5 ways QSRs are winning with March Madness fans

Published on March 13, 2023
Valerie Williams
Senior Content Marketing Manager

It’s March, and the madness is beginning to spread

Notorious for its high-stakes and unpredictable outcomes, March Madness is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men's Basketball Tournament played every March, where 68 college basketball teams from across the US battle it out to win the title of national champions. March Madness is a fitting title for the event as it drives massive spending, widespread sports betting, and a wave of unproductivity among US workers prioritizing watching the games over their work.

While March Madness may be all about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the cash flow around the event also plays a key role in driving businesses (and fans) mad each March. 

In fact in 2022, 45 million Americans wagered an estimated $3.1 billion on the three-week tournament. March Madness isn’t just a slam dunk for the NCAA, college basketball teams, and excited fans – it's also a major score for restaurants of all kinds looking to cash in on the frenzy. Especially those near the tournament sites and in high-viewership areas who experience a significant boost in revenue during the tournament.  

In celebration of an exciting Selection Sunday marking the official start of March Madness 2023, let’s take a look at ways for fast casual restaurants to take advantage of higher levels of demand driven by the tournament.

How the March Madness craze drives consumer spending

An average of 10.7 million viewers tuned in to the tournament in 2022, who typically drive record-breaking spending on food and beverage transactions in tournament site cities – not to mention the massive food delivery orders from NCAA Tournament teams during the three-week tournament. 

This year, 75,000 fans are expected to travel to the Houston, Texas area for the Final Four which wraps up the tournament on Saturday, April 1, when the event is projected to have an economic impact of a whopping $4,498,295 on the city, including $2,220,361 on restaurants:


5 ways to take advantage of the excitement around March Madness

March Madness typically drives demand up for fast food joints, restaurants, and watch bars serving game-day favorites such as wings, pizza, beer, and soda. By using intelligent event data, quick serve restaurants can better understand how high-impact events like March Madness have impacted their business historically, and accurately predict how these events will drive demand for their products and services in the future. This information powers the ability to adjust their operations to prepare for higher levels of demand and capitalize on the revenue opportunities these events bring. For example: 

1. Join the celebration with event-based promotions

In preparation for the competition amongst fast casual restaurants for the attention of hungry NCAA fans, Buffalo Wild Wings is celebrating NCAA March Madness with the introduction of not one, but two new sauces – and the chance for one lucky fan to win tickets to the Final Four – and an all-inclusive, overnight stay at a March Madness-themed pop-up space inside a Buffalo Wild Wings in Houston,TX. This type of promotion creates an association between the brand, and the excitement of the big event, strengthening branding with a target audience that has a strong interest in the event.

2. Experiment with guerilla marketing

UberEats appears to have given themselves a head start with their promotion in January at one college basketball game when one of their couriers wandered onto the court to deliver food to one of the production crew working at the game. While this example may have been an honest mistake, the fact that the live game was interrupted for a McDonald’s delivery made headlines while serving as a reminder that you can conveniently order your favorite QSR meals for delivery via the UberEats app.

3. Introduce limited-time menu items

Event-based menu items available for a limited time promotes a sense of urgency among consumers who want to try these menu items out while they still can. For example, due to recent changes in regulations allowing college athletes to benefit from their own Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), Wings Over has teamed up with over 15 of the best Men’s & Women’s NCAA Basketball athletes to create custom “Madness Meals” at Wings Over locations nationwide. Also, Pizza Hut is bringing back a classic basketball-themed packaging trick where their pizza box can be reconfigured into a basketball hoop – complete with a branded basketball that can be purchased in store or via their mobile app.

4. Host special events for fans

Restaurants are an ideal venue for March Madness celebrations like watch parties, which is why places like HearthStone Kitchen & Cellar in Las Vegas turn the event into an experience at their restaurant during the entire three-week tournament. Considering the tournament is one of the most popular sports events for betting, a restaurant could host a special event leading up to Selection Sunday, where people are encouraged to fill out a bracket to predict the winner of each matchup. On the night of the Final Four, the owner of the winning bracket could win a gift card to your restaurant, or branded merchandise made specifically for the promotion.

5. Beef up your catering options

NCAA teams aren’t the only ones placing larger-than-life orders during March Madness games – there are many large families and groups of friends who want to watch the games together, which QSRs can cater specifically to during this time. Catering packages that include a variety of menu items and offer special discounts for larger orders encourage customers to designate your restaurant as their go-to for large gatherings. For example, Arkansas-based QSR Slim Chickens secured a spot on the local news to promote their March Madness catering party platters, and all-new wing flavors last week before the official start of the tournament.

March Madness presents a massive opportunity for restaurants to boost their revenue due to the increased consumer spending around the games. With many fans gathering to watch their favorite college basketball teams duke it out, restaurants can capitalize on the excitement with event-based promotions, deals, and menu items to attract customers. By tailoring their marketing strategies to the tournament and creating a fun and engaging atmosphere, restaurants can position themselves to attract a larger customer base and increase their profits during this time.