Now that March Madness has tipped off, pizzerias across the suburbs are heating up.
As the college men's NCAA basketball tournament gains in popularity -- in part because of the increase in pools and bracket competitions among co-workers and friends -- pizza sales are picking up. March Madness ranks No. 2 behind the Super Bowl in pizza sales, area pizza experts say.
"Pizza goes hand and hand with sports," said Justin Ring, sales manager at Nation Pizza in Schaumburg. And it's not just delivery and take out. It's frozen pizzas, and the pies served at bars and restaurants as well, he said.
Ring noted that pizza is a $43 billion-a-year industry.
Domino's, Little Ceasars and Pizza Hut are included on the list of pizzerias launching promotions connected with March Madness. "We do get busier on the weekends in March," said Brijesch Patel, who oversees several Little Ceasars suburban stores. "It feels like the Super Bowl when we get toward the end of the tournament," he added.
Ivan Matsunaga, managing partner for Connie's Pizza agrees. "It really ramps up as we get into the Sweet 16," he said.
He added that the tournament fills a lull in pizza sales that used to take place after the Super Bowl. "Anytime there's sports, people think of pizza," said Matsunaga, who oversees two locations in Chicago, one in Naperville and one in Glen Ellyn.
Ring explains that "pizza season" traditionally runs from September through March before people get their grills out and start enjoying their patios.
"In the past, March Madness was kind of an after thought, but it's really gaining in popularity and is used as a way to extend the pizza season, " said Ring, of Nation Pizza, a company that focuses on producing frozen pizzas and other products for private labels.
Matsunaga added that during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, he also sees an uptick in beer and alcohol sales as customers come in throughout the day to watch games. During the end of the tournament, more people have parties and tend to order pizzas for pick up or delivery.
"We do see a lot more deliveries, especially at the end of March Madness," agreed Connie's Operations Director Mike Cannistra.
"We also see that the guys tend to stay home and send their wives out to pick up the pizza," Cannistra added with a laugh.