Papa John’s considers ending NFL sponsorship

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A certain great American could soon be abandoning his support for the league that includes America’s team.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Papa John’s is evaluating its sponsorship of the NFL in light of ongoing ratings declines, which the company claims have hurt pizza sales.

“We have to evaluate our reliance on partnerships that are TV-focused, like the NFL,” Papa John’s Chief Marketing Officer Brandon Rhoten told the Wall Street Journal. Papa John’s believes the league’s drop in ratings relates to the lingering anthem controversy.

“If the viewership decline continues, we will need to shift into things that work more effectively for us,” Papa John’s President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie said. “We are anxiously awaiting a solution [to the anthem issue] to be created. That’s what will put the league in a positive place for the players, the fan base and the partners associated with them.”

Ritchie, per the Wall Street Journal, “emphatically denied” that Papa John’s has applied pressure to the league to end players protests during the national anthem. That’s a ridiculous assertion, since comments from people like Ritchie and CEO John Schnatter, who on Wednesday blamed the NFL for “poor leadership” and said the anthem issue should have been “nipped in the bud” months ago, necessarily place pressure on the league to solve the problem.

The company also claims that it hasn’t discussed the issue with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. That’s simply not believable. Jones has an ownership interest in 120 Papa John’s stores; why wouldn’t Jones and Schnatter discuss the issue?

Indeed, the denial of collusion between the Cowboys and Papa John’s invites speculation that the goal isn’t to cover up discussions about solving the anthem problem but to hide broader shared strategies about solving the Commissioner problem. It’s now clear that Jones wants to make a change, and the comments from Schnatter can be interpreted that he feels the same way — and that these partners in the pizza business are now expanding their association to another kind of business.