Papa John’s is ending its NFL sponsorship


Papa John’s is no longer the official pizza of the National Football League.

After reporting a fourth-quarter earnings miss, Chief Executive Steve Ritchie told investors Tuesday that the pizza chain will be switching to a more focused marketing strategy.

“While the NFL remains an important channel for us we have determined that there are better ways to reach and activate this audience,” Ritchie said on the earnings conference call, according to a FactSet transcript. “Thus we will shift our marketing for the broader NFL sponsorship to focus on our partnership with 22 specific NFL teams, a significant presence on league broadcast and digital platforms and on our relationships with many of the league’s most popular players and personalities.”

In a joint statement, Papa John’s and the NFL said the decision was mutual. Papa John’s had been an official NFL sponsor since 2010.

“We thank the NFL for all of the efforts and the partnership that we’ve had over the last seven years and we will continue to be very prominent on NFL game days as we move forward,” just in a different way, Ritchie said.

Papa John’s founder and then-CEO John Schnatter lashed out at the NFL in November, blaming player protests for the company’s poor sales.

“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” Schnatter said on the company’s third-quarter conference call. “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders. . . . This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”

Schnatter later apologized for his comments, and resigned as CEO in December. He remains chairman of the company.

For years, Papa John’s commercials have been ubiquitous on NFL broadcasts. Its main pitchman, former quarterback Peyton Manning, owns more than 20 Papa John’s franchises, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones owns more than 100 franchises.

TV ratings for the NFL were down almost 10% during the 2017 season, following an 8% slide the previous season. While some blamed player protests for the drop-off, other experts cited a diluted product stretched over too many days of the week as well as changing TV viewer habits.

Papa John’s sales slumped last year, with same-store sales dropping almost 4% year-over-year in the fourth quarter.

Citing “some missteps” in fourth-quarter media investments, Ritchie said he expects 2018 to be a transitional year, and he doesn’t expect to see a significant pickup in sales until the latter part of the year.

Papa John’s International Inc. shares PZZA, -1.59%   fell nearly 6% in after-hours trading, after dropping 1.6% in the regular session. The stock has fallen 28% in the past year, compared to the S&P 500’s SPX, -1.27%   17% gain.