Pizza Hut scores first-ever virtual stadium deal in esports

Earlier this year, global restaurant chain Pizza Hut quietly made history as the first brand to bag naming rights to a virtual football stadium, when it scored a deal with EA Sports for the Madden NFL 20 Championship Series.

The Madden Championship Series, an esports event where fans of the popular video game compete throughout the season for a chance to win nearly $200,000, has proven a hit for EA Sports. The Madden NFL 20 Classic held from 30th August to 1st September saw players descend on North America’s largest esports-dedicated facility, Esports Stadium Arlington. Boasting the largest competitor pool in the history of the event, it was the perfect time for the Pizza Hut Stadium to make its debut as the venue for the in-game encounters.

Who knew that tucked away in the world of virtual football lay a partnership with the potential to have a long-lasting impact on sponsorship as we know it.

It arrived at a time when brands are increasingly marketing their products through competitive online video games, with hopes of getting their message across to an audience that many say is difficult to reach.

“The NFL and Pizza Hut have partnered since 2018 and with that, there’s a natural progression of finding a new way to reach a really unique audience in the gaming space,” explains Vida Mylson, senior director of global brand partnerships at EA Sports. “The NFL is trying to reach young males playing Madden, and our discussions were about reaching that new audience.”

What we can recognise with this deal is the want for EA Sports to further mirror the experience a player, and viewers get at an actual NFL venue. There is also the mirroring of sponsorship opportunities in the real world of sport; what works there is now a viable option in esports.

“Gamers used to be seen as the guys in the basement sitting alone, eating pizza and crushing Mountain Dew,” says Marianne Radley, the chief brand officer at Pizza Hut. “It’s different now. Today, it is about community. It’s modern, high-tech and there’s elite competition. It’s evolved, so who doesn’t want to be a part of that?