Papa John's blames NFL for sales decline, rips 'poor leadership'

Papa John’s Pizza, one of the NFL’s biggest corporate sponsors, on Wednesday said the league’s mishandling of player national anthem protests has had a negative impact on its sales.

“The NFL has hurt us,” Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter said during an earnings call. “More importantly, by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction, NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”

A longtime NFL sponsor, Papa John’s has been the league’s official pizza since 2010. The restaurant chain has partnered with several top NFL stars, including retired quarterback Peyton Manning and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, as well as 23 of the league’s 32 teams. Papa John’s has also been a major advertiser during NFL broadcasts for several years.

The NFL did not immediately respond to FOX Business’ request for comment. Papa John’s did not provide specific data on how much the NFL protests have affected its business. However, company shares fell more than 8% in trading Wednesday.

NFL viewership is down so far this season, marking the second consecutive year that the league has seen its television audience decline. Meanwhile, the league has seen an unprecedented wave of player protests amid public clashes with President Trump, who urged the league’s owners last September to fire any player who kneels during the national anthem.

Papa John’s COO and President Steve Ritchie said “another year of unexpected decline in viewership of the NFL, combined with significant negative consumer sentiment of our association with the league” has hurt the company’s sales outlook.

“These NFL challenges have persisted into Q4 and the negative impact to our projected results has been reflected into our updated full-year sales and earnings guidance,” Ritchie added.

Company executives added they have pulled some advertising related to its NFL partnership from television broadcasts due to negative customer reaction to the league.

“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” Schnatter said of the NFL.