Should Papa John’s drop its NFL sponsorship?
While some retailers get criticized for blaming the weather for poor results, Papa John’s is being called out for blaming the national anthem protests at NFL games this season for disappointing sales.
The player protest began in August 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt at a game during the anthem to protest racial injustice. Things escalated in September when President Donald Trump called on team owners to fire any player who kneels. Liberal-leaning consumers have threatened to boycott Papa John’s for blaming its performance on the protests, and some are directly linking the hubbub to NFL’s sharp drop in TV viewership.
The Wall Street Journal and CNBC reported Friday that Papa John’s is considering ending its NFL sponsorship. It’s already moved to drop the NFL shield and “official sponsor” label from ads.
“This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” chairman and CEO John Schnatter said last week on a conference call with analysts. Severe weather also affected sales.
Other pizza chains, including Pizza Hut and Domino’s, have suggested that the protests haven’t hurt pizza sales. DiGiorno, the frozen pizza leader, teased Papa John’s with few tweets, including one stating, “Better Pizza. Better Sales.”
But Papa John’s spends disproportionately more on NFL advertising as the official sponsor since 2010 including running in-game commercials and local tie-ins.
The decline in NFL ratings this season, which followed a sharp decline last year, has also been blamed on concerns over concussions, the addition of Thursday night games diluting the impact of the traditional Sunday and Monday schedule, the loss of popular stars such as Peyton Manning to retirement and current ones to injuries, and poor play. The fact that highlights can now be followed on social media may be cutting into viewership.
The ratings drop challenges the notion that “live” games are immune to losing TV viewers to Netflix, YouTube and on-demand programming. Papa John’s is already indicating it plans to expand its digital spend. Chief marketing officer Brandon Rhoten last week told The Associated Press, “We’re an e-commerce brand — it’s time we stop thinking in TV scripts.”
- Papa John’s Says It’s Evaluating NFL Sponsorship – The Wall Street Journal
- Papa John’s tells racists not to eat its pizza – Sacramento Bee
- Papa John’s New Marketing Chief Says Its CEO’s Beef With the NFL Is About Business, Not Politics – Adweek
- NFL player protests sidelined pizza sales? Papa John’s says yes, but others say no – Chicago Tribune
- Papa John’s CEO blames NFL for declining sales due to mishandling of anthem protests – USA Today
- Pizza Hut ‘not seeing any impact’ on sales from NFL protests – The Associated Press/Fox59
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is its NFL sponsorship becoming a liability for Papa John’s? What should the pizza chain do next?