The NFL might have forced out Papa John’s chairman John Schnatter over criticism from the founder of the pizza giant. So says Schnatter, an outspoken critic of the league’s declining ratings amidst widespread anthem protests two years ago.
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Schnatter defended his record and stances over a year after he stepped down from atop the pizza chain that he founded in 1984. Two years ago, Schnatter was among those critical of the league when the NFL was embroiled in a controversy surrounding its handling – or lack thereof – of players protesting during the national anthem.
Declining television ratings at the time were attributed to players kneeling during the anthem as a response to a variety of social and political issues.
This dip in NFL viewership hurt Papa John’s, Schnatter said, because fewer eyeballs were watching their ads. At the time, Papa John’s was an official sponsor of the NFL and dedicated a sizable portion of their advertising budget to the relationship.
In his comments on FOX Business Monday morning, Schnatter said he thinks that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could have had a role behind the scenes in his leaving Papa John’s.
“I don't know if he was behind it; I think he was a little bit frustrated with my comments. He's not used to being challenged," Schnatter told FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo during an interview on Mornings with Maria. "And the NFL is very powerful. And I was what was pretty stern: You need to fix the problem here. You're the leader. Be accountable.”
It is stinging criticism given the once close association between the NFL and Papa John’s, which ended its relationship with the league in 2018. Pizza Hut has stepped into that space and is now an official sponsor of the league.
Schnatter said that on a conference call with the NFL, he implored the league to address the anthem kneeling controversy. The impact on ratings was hurting Papa John’s business.
“I would have liked Roger Goodell just to fix the problem. Remember a third of our budget was the NFL,” Schnatter recalled of the conversation.
“So when the ratings I think were down some 20 percent … so it was hurting our business. It was hurting our franchisees. It was hurting our small business owners.”