It seemed like a good idea at the time.
A few weeks after the Toronto Raptors were swept out of the 2018 NBA playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the senior marketing manager for McDonald’s in eastern Canada worked out a deal with the team in which the fast-food restaurants would give out free medium-size orders of french fries in Ontario every time the Raptors made at least 12 three-pointers during the 2018-19 season. The Raptors had averaged 11.8 made three-pointers per game in 2017-18 and had topped the 12-shot mark in 43 of 82 regular season games, plus another five games in the playoffs, so simple math says the promotion would be a good but not too good way to get NBA fans into their local McDonald’s.
But then the Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green 18 days after the promotion was consummated, and while only the latter is much of a sharpshooter — he ranked 13th in the NBA in made three-pointers during the regular season — the pair has helped push the Raptors to unprecedented playoff heights, namely a 2-1 series lead over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
The end result, as told by Jake Edmiston of the Financial Post: 44 regular season games with at least 12 three-pointers, another 10 in what has become a lengthy playoff run and a huge surge of interest in both the team and its ties to free french fries. To wit: McDonald’s locations in Ontario have given away nearly three times the 700,000 orders the company projected when it ginned up the promotion. At an average menu price of $2.89, that’s $5.4 million worth of fries.
The Raptors hit 13 three-pointers in their Game 1 win in the Finals on May 30, and McDonald’s gave away 80,000 orders of french fries, a record.
Mike Forman, who owns four McDonald’s locations in Whitby, Ontario, told Edmiston that he’s not all that concerned about the financials — getting more people into your restaurant is a good thing, because they often will buy something to go with their free fries — but he is more worried about making sure his restaurants are fully staffed the day after the Raptors go crazy from long range.
“The managers will prep for it: ‘Okay, it’s a free fry day. Let’s go,’ ” Forman said. “In some situations, it is quite nuts.”
“Do we want to stop now?” he added. “No, we don’t want to stop now. This is good.”
There have been numerous fast-food promotions that have gone sideways over the course of consumer history. A particularly memorable one for local Washington readers took place in 1999, when Domino’s took $1 off any pizza for every touchdown scored in a game by the Redskins, who were coming off a season in which they crossed the goal line only 40 times, or 2.5 times per game. That particular Washington team would end up scoring 443 points, which still ranks second in franchise history. The Redskins put up seven touchdowns against the Giants in Week 2, meaning Domino’s was forced to give away pizzas that retailed for $6.99. Six weeks later, they scored six touchdowns against the Bears, meaning the pizzas were nearly free.
By early October, The Post reported then, the promotion had cost Washington-area Domino’s $2 million net on the Mondays after Redskins games, even though they had sold more than five times as many pizzas when compared with their usual Monday haul.
One local franchisee called it “the most successful promotion we’ve ever run” in terms of sales volume but added that “profits remain to be seen.”
The next season, Papa John’s (taking over as the Redskins’ official pizza partner) offered a slightly less risky deal: a free topping and a free 20-ounce soft drink for every touchdown the team scored. That year’s team would finish with only 281 points, its fewest in seven years, and averaged less than two touchdowns per game over its first seven contests.