Papa John's blames NFL protests for declining pizza sales

Here’s a new one: Papa John’s declining pizza sales apparently aren’t the result of Americans looking to eat healthier, or the rise of on-demand food competition like Uber Eats, or too many options for eating out, or just simple dissatisfaction with the pies that Papa John’s itself puts out. No, if you believe the pizza chain’s founder John Schnatter, the reason for Papa John’s declining sales is … the NFL protests and commissioner Roger Goodell‘s leadership.

“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” Schnatter said on a conference call announcing third-quarter earnings. “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”

Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter (R) is blaming the NFL for poor sales. (via screen shot)
Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter (R) is blaming the NFL for poor sales. (via screen shot)

The theory apparently goes that because the NFL is permitting players to protest, ratings are dropping. And the fact that ratings are dropping means fewer people are sitting around their televisions ordering pizzas. And surely some of those unordered pizzas would have come from Papa John’s, which enjoys a close connection with the NFL through omnipresent ads. Papa John’s has an agreement with both the NFL itself and 23 individual teams. Ergo, Papa John’s woes are the NFL’s fault.

“This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” Schnatter said. “Like many sponsors, we’re in touch with the NFL. Once the issue is resolved, we’re optimistic the NFL’s best years are ahead.”

Yes, it’s true that Papa John’s shares are at their lowest point in a year and a half, shedding nearly 10 percent of their value in early Wednesday trading. And yes, it’s almost certainly true that people didn’t order pizzas in the last four weeks that they otherwise might have had they been watching a game. And yes, the NFL has huge public relations and ratings problems at the moment. But blaming the NFL for problems that are likely much broader in nature — like, say, the four noted at the top of this article— is shortsighted at best. (It’s also worth noting that people boycott Papa John’s because of Schnatter’s own political stance.)

“It’s the NFL’s fault” makes for an easy populist appeal — opponents of the protests, regardless of their true number, are extraordinarily vocal online, and Schnatter will certainly get plenty of praise for his anti-NFL stance. But it’s also an approach that has long-term risks; companies in industries all across the economic spectrum are facing disruption from unexpected angles.

“Don’t blame us, it’s somebody else’s fault,” while popular these days, isn’t an excuse that shareholders will put up with for very long.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Got a comment, tip, or question for a future NFL mailbag? Contact him at or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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