Sparta Report

Papa John’s Now Rethinking NFL Sponsorship

Pressure continues to build on the NFL as Papa John’s is now openly talking about ending its sponsorship entirely:

Papa John’s International Inc. is evaluating its National Football League sponsorship in the wake of declining television football viewership, which the company has blamed in part on the national anthem protests that have roiled the league this season.

Top executives at the pizza chain said they are in weekly discussions with the NFL about the returns their advertising dollars are generating and that they will see how the rest of the football season plays out before making any big decisions. But they say consumers’ shift to digital channels is leading them to completely rethink the way they advertise.

“We have to evaluate our reliance on partnerships that are TV-focused, like the NFL,” Papa John’s Chief Marketing Officer Brandon Rhoten said in an interview on Friday, two days after the company reported that falling TV viewership of NFL games hurt the company’s third-quarter sales.

Total NFL ratings through the first seven weeks of the season declined by 5% compared with last year and by about 15% versus the same stretch in 2015, which was a strong season for the league. Media experts say many league offerings—from additional Thursday night games to the availability of games on digital devices and outlets—has led viewers to watch football elsewhere.

“If the viewership decline continues, we will need to shift into things that work more effectively for us,” said Papa John’s President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie.

It is unclear how much impact football players’ national anthem protests have had on viewership, but Papa John’s says that issue needs to be resolved. Papa John’s founder and Chief Executive John Schnatter on Wednesday told investors that the NFL showed “poor leadership” by not resolving the issue already, saying the issue is “polarizing the customer, polarizing the country.”

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