IU and Purdue sports fans next season will get bombarded with marketing messages from Zaxby’s, a chain of fast-food chicken restaurants founded in Georgia in 1990.
In April, Zaxby’s signed (separate) major sponsorship deals with Indiana and Purdue athletic departments. The deals are a bit strange given that there are no Zaxby’s restaurants anywhere near West Lafayette or Bloomington—home of Purdue and IU. There are none in Indianapolis either, where the schools have large alumni and fan bases. There are only two Zaxyby’s in all of Indiana; one in Jeffersonville and another in New Albany, according to the company's web site.
Since there are so few Zaxby’s here, sports marketers said the deals with IU and Purdue are likely a push not only to attract more diners, but also to recruit more franchisees to speed expansion across Indiana.
When contacted this week, IU and Purdue officials were at a loss as to why Zaxby’s would want to partner with their schools. And Zaxby’s officials did not return calls for comment. Zaxby’s officials said in a statement, however, that they are committed to having deals with two schools in each state where they have a presence.
Retail and restaurant insiders said Zaxby's is bent on taking on Chick-fil-A, which already has a footing in college athletics, and in the Midwest.
Whatever its reason, Zaxby’s is coming to IU and Purdue this fall—and they’re coming in a big way. Zaxby’s will be one of the most prominent sponsors during the Hoosiers and Boilermakers football and basketball games.
“If you asked our fans if they are familiar with Zaxby’s, the answer would probably be ‘no.’ But after this campaign begins they will be,” said Dean Fredette, Purdue Sports Properties general manager. “They’ll have a major presence across our basketball and football platforms. Between Purdue and IU, I think people of Indiana will become very familiar with Zaxby’s.”
The Zaxby’s campaigns at IU and Purdue will be very similar, school officials said, and will include such in-venue videoboard features as Zaxby’s Sack Cam for football games and Zaxby’s Dunk Cam for basketball. The deals also include exposure on IU and Purdue’s statewide radio networks, and advertising on the schools’ athletic department web sites. Other in-stadium and arena advertising may also be part of the deal.
The IU and Purdue deals with Zaxby’s were brokered by North Carolina-based IMG College as a way to get Zaxby’s on numerous college campuses and in front of myriad college sports fans.
This spring Zaxby’s has signed sponsorship deals with 25 NCAA Div. I schools.
Most of the schools Zaxby’s has signed with are in the southeast. IU and Purdue are the only two Big Ten schools that are part of the Zaxby’s campaign.
Other Zaxby’s partners include Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the SEC; Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech in the ACC; Baylor in the Big 12; and a handful of schools in the Sunbelt Conference and Conference USA.
Zaxby’s has developed a special collective logo featuring the 25 partnering colleges designed to identify itself as “The Official Chicken of College Sports.”
Zaxby’s CEO and co-founder Zach McLeroy, in a press announcement, called the deals a “monumental partnership” and said they “keep us true to our roots” as a company started in a college town.