It has been beyond shameful to watch Anheuser-Busch, Ford, and many other advertisers choose to stand by the National Football League despite the NFL standing by players who engage in anti-American protests on the field. Fortunately, though, it seems there’s at least one prominent NFL sponsor who isn’t quite so beholden to the league.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the national pizza chain Papa John’s is currently “evaluating” whether to cut ties with the NFL. And while the company doesn’t say the protests themselves will be the deciding factor in their eventual decision, Papa John’s is calling out the NFL’s handling of the National Anthem protests:
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.”
At this point, one thing seems clear: Papa John’s shouldn’t expect the NFL to provide any such resolution unless and until the heat they’re feeling right now dramatically increases.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has refused to enforce the league’s preexisting rules on respecting the National Anthem, and as TFPP has previously reported, despite widespread protests and boycotts, the league has decided that not only will it not crack down on players who refuse to stand for the anthem, it will explore alternative ways athletes can use the NFL’s platform to promote left-wing “social justice” narratives. In fact, the league plans to finance a “social activism boot camp” for their players and endorse “criminal justice reform” legislation — i.e., reacting to people demanding a less political football experience by doubling down on the politics.
It’s disappointing to see that Papa John’s is basing its decision more on profits than principle, but at least they’re not mincing words about the protests’ impact on the viability of their advertising partnership.