Papa John’s top brass fires warning shot to NFL: clean up its act – or else


Executives at Papa John’s are warning the NFL to deal with some major issues if they want to preserve their corporate relationship.

Top brass at the Kentucky-based pizza company want the National Football League to clean up its act and deal with the ongoing national anthem protests by players that have created a public backlash affecting ratings and, ultimately, sales, Fox Business Network reported.

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Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter slammed the “poor leadership” among NFL officials last week though executives at the pizza chain noted that his comments did not mean he was taking sides in the controversial debate.

“Those things got mischaracterized and misconstrued, that Papa John’s has some sort of a position politically on the protests. We have no position,” Papa John’s President and COO Steve Ritchie told FOX Business on Wednesday. “Our only position is that we want the NFL to improve. … I think it’s fair to say that clearly some things need to change for the relationship to be mutually successful moving forward.”

NFL player protests during the national anthem have coincided with a ratings decline that many believe is a result of viewer and fan backlash. The latest Nielsen data indicated NFL ratings declined from last year, down 5.5 percent through the first nine weeks of the 2017 season, according to Fox Business.

“The NFL has been a long and valued partner over the years, but we are certainly disappointed that NFL and its leadership did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties,” Schnatter said on the conference call last week. “The NFL has hurt us and, more importantly, by not resolving the current debacle to the [players’ and owners’] satisfaction, NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s.”

According to Fox Business:

Critics ripped Papa John’s for failing to provide adequate proof that the NFL was responsible for its sales struggles. The company’s stock is down roughly 15% since its Nov. 1 results. Separately, the CEO of Yum Brands (YUM), the parent company of the rival Pizza Hut brand, said it has seen no NFL-related impact on its business.

However, Papa John’s executives say they reached their determination based on solid data. During the early stages of the NFL season, an analysis of email open rates, website traffic, online orders and A/B testing on NFL-related marketing campaigns showed that Papa John’s NFL sponsorship was having a negative impact on consumer engagement, according to Papa John’s Chief Marketing Officer Brandon Rhoten.

“We have very detailed information that tells us what is aiding and what’s not aiding our sales, and the picture was very clear,” Rhoten said.

While the NFL has yet to respond to Papa John’s claims about its sales, Ritchie said the company will continue to look at their corporate dealings with the league while waiting for NFL officials to address the issues.

“To state the obvious, coming up with a mutual solution for the players and the owners and the league and their partners would be a good first step to solving some of the recent issues,” Ritchie said. “We certainly don’t know what they would be, but doing nothing appears to not be improving the performance of the league.”

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