Tue. Nov 30th, 2021

Dive Brief:
Chipotle Mexican Grill signed a multiyear agreement to become the official Mexican-themed quick service and Mexican-themed fast-casual restaurant of the NHL in North America, its first major professional sports sponsorship, per an announcement.
As part of the deal, which is effective immediately, Chipotle will have a brand presence at marquee league events including the NHL Winter Classic, NHL Stadium Series, NHL All-Star Game and NHL Heritage Classic. For every game during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, its logo will be featured on corner in-ice brand positions. The NHL and Chipotle will also collaborate on fan engagement opportunities across their broadcast, digital and social media platforms.
At the same time, Chipotle has re-upped a longstanding partnership with USA Hockey through 2023. U.S. Women’s National Team stars Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield and NHL players Charlie McAvoy and Jack Hughes serve as ambassadors for Team Chipotle, with Knight and Coyne Schofield featuring in a new “Unwrapped” ad about staying fueled with Chipotle that shows off ordering through the brand’s app.

Dive Insight:
Chipotle is making its biggest push yet into professional sports with the multiyear NHL sponsorship, which builds on existing ties to the hockey world through a USA Hockey pact dating back to 2018. The NHL kicked off its regular season last month.

The restaurant chain has previously advertised around major leagues without ever locking in a formal deal of this scope. It ran commercials during the NBA Finals this year that featured hidden keywords that viewers could text to try and score a free burrito. The promotion mirrored a 2019 marketing play that similarly leaned on SMS tactics, with Chipotle’s Twitter account posting a unique code for a burrito redemption every time an announcer or commentator said the word “free” on-air.

Sports has recently shifted closer to center stage in Chipotle’s marketing in a number of ways. In June, it started airing its first national TV spot starring a professional athlete to prop up a line of celebrity-inspired meals. The ad — which debuted ahead of the Olympics — profiled Julie Ertz, defensive midfielder on the U.S. Women’s National Team, and was also part of Chipotle’s “Unwrapped” series. The company’s messaging platform related to athlete training is called “Real Food For Real Athletes.”


A bigger stake in professional sports helps Chipotle emphasize its positioning around health and quality ingredients. As the latest “Unwrapped” effort demonstrates, mobile and digital ordering are clearly top of mind as the pandemic continues to change diner habits. Chipotle has already surpassed $2 billion in digital sales this year, with the channel accounting for nearly half of its total mix. Same-store sales, a key indicator of category health, were up 15.1% year-on-year in the third quarter, while digital and mobile also received a boost. Chipotle’s loyalty program now also wields more than 24 million members.

For the NHL, the tie-up represents an opportunity to reach younger consumers that show a preference for fast-casual and digital-first brands. The NHL has been working harder to capture new fans and capture on the streaming boom. Earlier this year, it started broadcasting games on Disney-owned networks like ESPN and ABC for the first time in 17 years.

“We look forward to working together to develop innovative programs in the seasons ahead to reach new and existing fans through our partnership and providing Chipotle major brand visibility at our tentpole events,” said Max Paulsen, NHL senior director of business development, in a press statement.

Regarding the extended USA Hockey Partnership, Team Chipotle ambassadors will support the USA Hockey Youth National Championships, make appearances at Chipotle-sponsored Player Development Camps and participate in future brand campaigns, according to details emailed to Marketing Dive.

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