By Barry Janoff
Feb. 14, 2012: it's one thing to say you want your company to have a strong sports marketing platform. But it's another thing to take that strategy and actually make it work.
Welcome to the world of Subway, which uses its sports marketing alliances as part of a broader strategy to connect with consumers and fans worldwide. Over the past decade, as Subway grown to more than 36,000 locations in nearly 100 countries, the QSR has extended its sports-sponsorship menu to include athletes from and alliances with Nascar, WWE, the NFL, NBA, Major League and Little League Baseball and the Olympics.
Subway's messages also can be seen and heard as a primary sponsor on ESPN Radio and ESPN 2's Mike & Mike in the Morning, with Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic; as an "official training partner" for the ING NYC Marathon; and even the USA Sevens International Rugby Championship, which took place in Las Vegas this past weekend, with 16 nations worldwide.
Among its current roster of Famous Fans (don't call them product endorsers) are Justin Tuck, Ndamukong Suh, Blake Griffin, Carl Edwards, Michael Phelps and his mom Debbie, Apolo Ohno, Ryan Howard, Nastia Liukin and Jay Glazier of Fox Sports. But the company's most Famous of Fans is Jared Fogle, who 14 years ago became part of a national campaign to show how incorporating Subway into his life helped him to lose - and keep off - nearly 250 pounds.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Tony Pace, svp/global CMO for Subway FAF (Franchise Advertising Fund), at a Subway location on Fifth Ave. in New York during an event in which Justin Tuck of the Super Bowl XLVI champion New York Giants showed up unannounced to work the counter and serve sandwiches to customers.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How does having Justin Tuck show up unannounced to serve Subway sandwiches help support Subway's message?
Tony Pace: We did this in Indianapolis during Super Bowl week, not with Justin because he was getting ready to play in the game, but we had Michael Strahan and Jay Glazier on separate days. Great response both times. And as you can see here, people like it. For Subway, February is 'Febru-Any.' And we also are doing a Footlong Nation Appreciation to say thanks to all of our fans (people vote for their favorite Footlong for the opportunity to win prizes, include Subway Footlongs for life). The media knew that Justin would be here, but it was not announced to the public. However, given the extent of social media these days, it really wasn't that much of a secret. People were tweeting, 'Justin Tuck is at the Subway on 5th and 29th. Come on over.' [Laughs.]
NYSJ: Did it take a lot of convincing to get Justin to do this?
TP: No. He's great. We even gave him a green foam hand with '$5 Footlong' [written on it] and he was outside doing the Tuck bow. Obviously, we're capitalizing on the Giants' Super Bowl win. But he's been a great Famous Fan for us for some time. He looks comfortable [behind the counter].
NYSJ: is he a potential Subway franchise owner in the making?
TP: You never know. [Laughs.] He's been a Subway consumer at least since he was a freshman at Notre Dame. He weighed something like 200 pounds, and his strength-and-conditioning coach gave him a meal card and told him, 'Go eat at Subway as much as you can. That'll help make you a great defensive end.'
NYSJ: Did you give him the official 'Tony Pace test' where you ask a potential endorser their favorite Subway sandwich?
TP: Justin has a favorite, but he knows the whole menu as well as anyone. [Tuck's favorite sandwich is Spicy Italian]. The test, as you refer to it, is I ask an athlete who wants to work with us if he or she has a favorite Subway sandwich. If they name one, and it's ingredients, right away, then we talk [about a deal]. If they say, 'It's on white bread,' I reply, 'We don't serve white bread' and say [to them], 'Thanks, but no thanks.' The Famous Fans who endorse Subway really do eat at Subway.
NYSJ: Aligning with NFL players gives Subway a broad spectrum of fans and possible consumers. What about Subway's deal with the USA Sevens International Rugby Championship, which took place in Las Vegas this past weekend [Feb. 10-12]?
"Everyone is looking for ways to distinguish themselves in the sports marketing space. [Rugby] is a sport that is on a good trajectory." — Tony Pace
TP: As a rugby player from back in the day, I have a fondness for the sport. Rugby is one of those sports that is on a positive trajectory as it expands in the U.S. and people begin to understand what it is. We've been in that space for a couple of years, looking for ways to build the sport and have the rugby more associated with Subway. Everyone is looking for ways to distinguish themselves in the sports marketing space, and if you get involved early with a sport that is on a good trajectory, that is one way to do it. So we are happy to be involved with rugby.
NYSJ: What activations are you looking at as far as March Madness?
TP: We do a lot of advertising. We have a great relationship with Blake Griffin, whom we've worked with since he came out of Oklahoma. And the Los Angeles Clippers this year with the acquisition of Chris Paul are in pretty good shape and getting a lot of national attention. So Blake will be in a lot of things we are doing.
NYSJ: What about the 2012 MLB season?
TP: We have a good relationship with Ryan Howard, so we're excited about the 2012 baseball season. He had that very difficult injury right at the end of the Philadelphia Phillies playoff run last year. But he's coming back pretty strong from everything that I hear. We very happy to hear that. He eats at Subway, and we love that. But his return is all due to his doctors and his hard work.
NYSJ: What about looking toward activations for the Summer Olympics?
TP: Well, a certain Famous Fan of ours is a pretty darn good swimmer. [Laughs.] Michael is training very aggressively and we are part of his training routine. So expect to see [Subway Olympics marketing] with Phelps.
NYSJ: Can we expect to see some new Famous Fans in Subway marketing?
TP: We usually tie in with someone coming out of the NFL Draft, so we're talking with a few folks now. At this very restaurant, we build the busts of [our new NFL spokesmen] made out of Subway ingredients. We did it a couple of years ago with Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Spiller and last year we did it with Mark Ingram.
NYSJ: This will be a busy sports year, so do you expect to ramp up Subway's overall sports marketing activation?
TP: As we like to say, 2012 will be a big year for athletes everywhere. Justin started the year off for us with a bang. So from a marketing standpoint, Subway is thrilled. And as a die-hard New York Giants fan, I've had a smile on my face since the Super Bowl.
PHOTOS: NYSportsJournalism; Justin Tuck: Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Subway; Michael Phelps, Jared Fogel: AJ Mast/Subway Restaurants