The ongoing NFL "kneeling" protests are starting to have a major impact on downstream businesses, and none more so than Papa John's pizza. Earlier this week, the Sports Business Journal reported that Papa John's in-game pizza sales have fallen since President Donald Trump encouraged people to boycott the NFL in late September.
According to the report, NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart said that Papa John's had expressed "concerns with the league." While Lockhart also said that other top sponsors have expressed similar concerns as the NFL's TV ratings slump and political battles play out in the league, the NFL is especially crucial to Papa John's business. The company began its partnership with the NFL in 2010 and has "Preferred Pizza" partnerships with 23 NFL teams. Last year, the company signed a multi-year partnership with the NFL and the Super Bowl.
Fast forward to today, when Papa John founder John Schnatter unleashed on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying weak leadership at the league has hurt sales of his pizza.
Speaking on a conference call, Schnatter said that “The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction." The Papa John CEO and Chairman adding that “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”
While this is not the first time Goodell has taken flak for not resolving the controversy more quickly, it is the first time that a prominent corporation has accused NFL leadership and its response for hurting its shareholders.
“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” Schnatter said, quoted by Bloomberg.
"This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” Schnatter said on the call. “Like many sponsors, we’re in touch with the NFL. Once the issue is resolved, we’re optimistic the NFL’s best years are ahead."
Meanwhile, Papa John’s tumbled the most in eight months on Wednesday after Q3 sales missed analysts’ estimates. The company also trimmed its revenue and profit forecasts for the year. Ratings for the NFL are down this year, which also affects how often fans order pizza.
While this could be a plain old case of redirection and scapegoating by a company that had to "explain" away its terrible earnings, now that the seal has been broken and companies are officially involved in the fray - and not on the side of the NFL - it is only a matter of time before more loud voices emerge, demanding that the NFL put the feud to rest, although it is very much unclear how this can be resolved in a manner that is satisfactory to all participants.