In anticipation of the 2014 NFL season’s kick-off next week, McDonald’s is solidifying its position as the league’s official restaurant sponsor with a digital marketing campaign that rewards loyal football fans based on their tailgating prowess.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based quick-service chain has a long history of partnering with local NFL teams. As it enters its second season as the league’s official restaurant sponsor however, McDonald’s is using a Web-enabled marketing platform to celebrate fans’ passion for the game.

The campaign kicks off on September 2, when McDonald’s will position point-of-purchase materials at its 14,000 restaurants nationwide and launch an advertising blitz for the “McDonald’s Tailgate Photo Sweepstakes.” The nationwide program will reward the most dedicated fans for “tailgating McDonald’s-style,” according to John Lewicki, McDonald’s senior director of global alliances. 

Banking on mobile consumers to lead the way, the burger giant is encouraging fans to log on to Twitter and Instagram using #McDTailgateSweeps, and share pictures and Vine videos of themselves as they enjoy McDonald’s products while tailgating. These posts are entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to win what Lewicki described as “the ultimate McDonald’s tailgate party,” complete with an 18-wheeler-truck-turned-mobile restaurant, filled with enough McDonald’s food to feed up to 200 people in the winner’s hometown later this season. There will also be weekly winners who will receive prizes, such as $100 gift cards to NFLShop.com.

“The partnership is a great opportunity for us, as the NFL’s fan base is our customers as well,” Lewicki said. “The alliance gives us another opportunity to reach the millions of football fans who visit us daily.”

To keep fans engaged throughout the 13-week season, The Golden Arches is adorning dedicated medium-sized product packages with NFL logos and QR codes. 

As fans use their mobile devices to scan the digital codes on medium drink cups, for example, they will be directly linked to NFL Now, an online video library that allows visitors to watch and prioritize NFL-related video content, including live footage, news, historic clips and game-day highlights. QR codes displayed on medium fries packages link fans to a “McDonald’s Pick The Play Sweepstakes” URL. Once on the site, consumers watch an EA SPORTS Madden NFL 15 clip and guess the outcome of the play. These participants are entered to win NFL-related prizes, including a trip for two to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona.

While Lewicki defined McDonald’s initial online strategies during the 2013 NFL season as more “passive,” “It is time to build platforms that will engage people,” he said. 

“We have to be relevant to consumer trends, and tie efforts back to our brick-and-mortar retail locations. By leveraging our alliance with the NFL and digital tools, we can directly engage with our customers and deliver unique content.”

This is especially important as mobile technology adoption increases. With 55 percent of American adults using smart phones, and 42 percent owning tablets, according to the Pew Research Center, consumers have an always-on conduit to connect with their favorite brands via mobile sites and social media networks. Brands that adopt these digital strategies can intimately engage with shoppers in real-time, and drive loyalty in a more cost-efficient manner. 

When comparing the cost of all major online advertising channels for example, social media was 70 percent below the industry average, according to the “Q2 2014 Media Intelligence Report” from Neustar Inc. And social media’s ability to reach users improved 65% quarter-over-quarter, the report said.

“Smart, forward-thinking companies are using social media strategies to capitalize on the opportunity to turn their customers into virtual billboards for their brand,” said Maribeth Ross, vice president and chief content officer, Aberdeen Group. “This comes at an opportune time for brands such as McDonald’s that may struggle to rise above the noise in traditional advertising mediums.”

While the program is still days away from commencing, Lewicki expects its social marketing to drive engagement and food sales among its 29 million customers. “We’ve built a strong social media aspect into our online creative, and expect social media to drive viral engagement,” he explained. “Since it is a new program for us, we are looking to learn from it as well.”