Plenty of baseball teams have suspended their relationships with Papa John’s in recent days, moves that create real complications and revenue consequences when they happens during baseball season. How many NFL teams will end their relationships with Papa John’s in the aftermath of the full body of founder and former chairman/CEO John Schnatter’s behavior and comments over the past several months?
The Falcons indefinitely suspended the relationship pending further evaluation, a process that in theory could result in all three Papa John’s locations at Mercedes-Benz Stadium being open for business when the Falcons begin playing games there next month, if the evaluation results in a finding that, with Schnatter gone, all is well.
The real question is whether the Falcons, or anyone else, will say based on what already has transpired, “Enough.”
The University of Louisville moved quickly to dump Schnatter from the school’s board of trustees, and to shed “Papa John’s” from the name of the stadium where the football team plays. With the exception of the Falcons, who strongly denounced the racially insensitive comments from Schnatter that came to light this week, the NFL’s teams have been silent on the issue.
Pizza Hut has replaced Papa John’s as the NFL’s official pizza, but multiple teams have relationships with the company, including the Cowboys, whose owner has been silent about the recent controversy engulfing Schnatter. Jones wasn’t silent last year, when Schnatter was (possibly at Jones’ behest) bashing the NFL over its handling of the anthem controversy.
“I am a joint owner of the businesses of 120 Papa John’s stores here in Texas,” Jones said in the immediate aftermath of Schnatter’s notorious conference call during which he blamed the league for reduced earnings for a period of time when the NFL wasn’t, you know, playing games. “And John Schnatter is one of the great Americans. He’s the story of America. He started off in his dad’s bar just doing a pizza with a little oven or microwave, and he’s built that thing into one of the greatest businesses. Papa John’s was named by all of the people that look at the NFL, Papa John’s was named as the product most associated with the NFL and it was named that a year ago by a survey of all of our viewers. So he is quite an American story.”
He’s become a very different kind of American story, a story that some would say has become all too common in the last 18 months. So will the NFL’s teams that do business with Papa John’s acknowledge that and take action? Or will they simply wait for the P.R. storm to subside and continue to make money via their partnership with a product that is (or at least was) so closely associated with the NFL?
And what will the NFL do about any of this? Although it’s not an issue at the league level, the teams are the league. If the league thinks it’s “bad for business” (sound familiar?) to associate with Papa John’s, it can pass that message along to the teams. Unless and until the NFL teams that do business with Papa John’s end the relationship, it can fairly be assumed that the NFL hasn’t sent that message.