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Papa John’s Blames NFL Kneeling Drama For Declining Sales. He’s Not Entirely Wrong

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Papa John’s has been getting wrecked over the past couple of days after its founder blamed NFL the kneeling drama for the company’s declining sales.


Papa John’s has been getting held up for ridicule over the past couple of days after its founder and CEO John Schnatter, a.k.a. Papa John, reportedly blamed the NFL controversy over kneeling players for the company’s declining sales.

“The NFL has hurt us,” Schnatter said in a conference call with investors, according to ESPN. “We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this.”

“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” he said, a veiled swipe on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for failing to have the national anthem protesting “nipped in the bud” when it became a thing last year.

Understandably, the pizza chain’s competitors have taken the opportunity to mock Papa John’s excuse-making. On Thursday, Pizza Hut said their sales had not been hurt by the NFL’s decision to allow its players to kneel in protest while “The Star Spangled Banner” is sung at the start of each game, or by the football league’s waning viewership. And DiGiorno Pizza, the ugly stepchild of frozen dinners with a savage digital team, has been mercilessly trolling Papa John’s as well.

And The Huffington Post is taking it a step further by saying the complaining pizza chain will soon become the official pizza of the Alt-Right. Haha okay, HuffPo. You do you.

But Papa John’s explanation for declining sales actually kinda makes sense. I mean, the official pizza company of the NFL that sponsors a million ads that are played throughout every game sees a drop in sales while football viewership is down. These two things could be a coincidence, but presumably Papa John’s was sponsoring the NFL and advertising during its games for a reason. And blaming NFL kneelers for the 5 percent drop in viewership this season is reasonable, as 26 percent of those who watched fewer games this season said they did so because of anthem protestors like Colin Kaepernick.

Does all of the blame for Papa John’s declining sales lie on NFL kneelers? No. But it’s reasonable to say that tumult in the NFL, where kneeling protests and their aftermath have directly reduced viewership, has hurt the brand and sales of the official pizza sponsor of the NFL. Anthem-kneeling isn’t the only reason viewership is down. As Ben Domenech has noted, the game just isn’t as good anymore. Buying fewer ads in response to this downward viewership trend, which is what Schnatter has said the pizza chain will do, makes sense if he really is truly worried about the direction of the NFL and his company’s association with it.