The Tilted Kilt, a 50-unit pub chain, has gone from being a place for guests to watch mixed martial arts fight matches on TV to becoming the first restaurant brand to step into the ring with the sponsorship of an Ultimate Fighting Championship team.
The Tempe, Ariz.-based chain has agreed to fund a lineup of MMA competitors, the Tilted Kilt Fight Team, which president Ron Lynch is convinced will drive national exposure during pay-per-view fights and strengthen the Tilted Kilt’s marketing return on investment as MMA grows more popular.
Lynch said the chain always attracted big crowds for MMA fights. “And when it’s a pay-per-view bout, it would be standing room only,” he said. “Four years ago, I was the last guy to get into it, and I was a little worried about the element it might attract — I didn’t want fights in the pubs. But we have more trouble from the football fans.”
Tilted Kilt’s involvement with mixed martial arts started when John Ivey of MTX Audio, one of the restaurant’s suppliers, brought in UFC fighter Ryan Bader for an appearance at the restaurant. After meeting Bader and seeing the growing appeal of MMA, Lynch decided to sponsor the fight team with MTX, which now includes Bader and other well-known fighters like Gray Marynard, CB Dollaway and Aaron Simpson.
Lynch said the May 28 lightweight championship bout featuring fight team member Maynard would be a big night promotionally and for sales in the Tilted Kilt pubs.
The brand’s $400,000 investment is used to operate a training facility for the team’s 13 members and pay salaries to trainers and the fighters, many of whom ordinarily have to take second jobs to pay bills and expenses. In return, the fighters wear the Tilted Kilt’s logo on their shorts, which sport the brand’s tartan pattern on the waistband, during matches in the ring. They also make personal appearance at Tilted Kilt restaurants whenever they’re in town for a UFC event.
The sponsorship model closely resembles the structure of NASCAR, but with logos and other branding adorning boxer shorts instead of the hood of a stock car, Lynch said.
“We’re getting pretty big at 50 pubs, and our volumes are good, but in the grand scheme of things, we’re a pretty small chain,” he said. “This is something we can afford to get into and get lots of exposure on national TV. The fights go over and over, because it starts on pay-per-view and then replays on Spike TV and the Versus Network.”
The more MMA goes mainstream — title fights now are covered regularly on programs like ESPN’s “SportsCenter” along with boxing and pro football or basketball — the more opportunities Tilted Kilt will have to leverage its support of the sport, Lynch added.
“There will come a point where we may want to have our logo on the mat or on a championship belt for one of these MMA associations,” he said. “Then, a commercial during the fight along with it would be perfect. All the fans would see our communications and our support of the fighters.”
Lynch said The Tilted Kilt’s average unit volume is “close to $3 million,” and the per-person average check runs about $14.