Papa John’s is blaming NFL protests during the national anthem for sagging pizza sales.
On a conference call with shareholders Wednesday, Papa John’s founder, CEO and TV pitchman John Schnatter voiced his disgust about the ongoing protests he says are killing his business during NFL games. Schnatter blames commissioner Roger Goodell for allowing the demonstrations to continue, which Papa John’s believes is turning football fans away from games and those expensive pizza ads.
“The NFL has hurt us,” Schnatter said. “We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this.”
Papa John’s president and chief operating officer Steve Ritchie also blamed the company’s deal with the NFL for the sales decline and said, “We expect it to persist unless a solution is put in place.” The company did not divulge just how far sales have fallen, but Ritchie indicated that, as one of the most prominent NFL sponsors, Papa John’s and the NFL’s popularity are linked.
With many fans boycotting the league on both sides of the anthem issue, the NFL has experienced a decline in television ratings this season. Through seven weeks, NFL TV ratings are down 5 percent from this point last season. While some point to the clashes over anthem demonstrations, network TV numbers in general are down, according to CNN. The four major networks are all down an average of 8 percent in prime time.
Papa John’s suits said the company pulled much of its NFL advertising and the NFL gave the pizza maker credits for future ad spots.
“Leadership starts at the top and this is an example of poor leadership,” Schnatter said, noting he thought the anthem protests were “nipped in the bud” a year and a half ago.
Papa John’s has experienced a decline in sales during NFL games and the company complained to the NFL about the business hit. The NFL told Business Insider recently that other companies have lodged similar complaints.
Much of the anthem demonstrations, which Colin Kaepernick started a year ago as a protest against racial injustice and police brutality, had dwindled earlier this season. But since President Donald Trump has attacked NFL protesters, many players have taken up the cause, mostly in defiance.
Players have also revolted against owners like Houston’s Bob McNair, who last week equated NFL players to “inmates” in an badogy. In response, many Texans players took a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner” last weekend.
There is no more polarizing issue in sports and politics than protests during the national anthem, and Papa John’s will likely experience continued sluggishness after complaining that protesting against racism has been bad for pizza sales.
Recently sidelined ESPN anchor Jemele Hill, who was suspended two weeks for social media posts about boycotting NFL sponsors, immediately attacked Papa John’s on Twitter: “Sorry racial injustice couldn’t be ended as easily as adding an extra topping and a side of ranch.”
Papa John’s also has “Preferred Pizza” partnerships with 23 NFL teams. And while the company has singled out protests during the anthem as a primary reason behind declining sales, commercials starring an alleged badual harbader, Peyton Manning, continue to air.
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