Papa John's Pulls NFL Ads: Anthem Protests Are Hurting Business

Cris Carter

After declining 8 percent during the 2016 season, NFL TV ratings were down another 7.5 percent through the first six weeks of the 2017 season, ESPN reported last month, citing Nielsen data.

Papa John's, the official pizza company of the NFL, is reportedly upset with the league's ongoing player protests during the national anthem, and have made a decision to pull many of its NFL television advertising.

"In revising sales estimates for the next quarter, Papa John's president and COO Steve Ritchie said on the call that the National Football League deal was the primary suspect behind the decline and that "we expect it to persist unless a solution is put in place".

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"The NFL situation has persisted in the pressure that it's applying to our sales that has bled into the start of the fourth quarter", Steve Ritchie, chief operating officer, said during the conference call.

"Like Subway in recent years, Papa John's has invested in athletes to market their products", Darren Tristano, a foodservice trend expert, told CNBC via email.

This year, Papa Track was introduced, allowing customers to track their pizza orders. The flap has even drawn tweets from President Donald Trump, who called for owners to fire or bench players who refuse to stand during "The Star-Spangled Banner". ESPN also reports that the company has pulled much of its NFL TV advertisements, and that the NFL has responded by offering additional future spots. And the company expects this trend to continue into the next quarter. The company additionally lowered it's North American same-store sales prediction for the year to 1.5%, down from 2 to 4%. "Sponsorship of NFL = No Free Lunch". But the country already was polarized; the anthem controversy simply allowed that polarity to invade pro football, via politicians made a decision to intrude on sports. And Papa John's, like so many other companies, simply didn't see the iceberg that was right ahead.

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