Chicken wing company CEO: NFL player protests have hurt sales

Sanderson Farms, one of the country’s largest chicken providers, said Thursday that NFL national anthem protests are having an impact on chicken wing sales.

The Laurel, Mississippi-based company reported worse-than-expected net income in its fourth fiscal quarter of 2017. Sanderson Farms CEO Joe F. Sanderson Jr. blamed the decline in part on less demand from its restaurant chain partners, noting that “the NFL has hurt the wing stores, and that is the traffic going through some of the wing places that we service.”

“The only thing is puzzling me right now is wings,” Sanderson said during a call with analysts. “We have been talking to our wing customers and they're the ones that are telling us that this -- they're seeing less traffic in their stores, and they attribute that to the NFL. That's not our judgment.”

Chicken wing prices have plummeted roughly 28% from peak levels last September, when President Donald Trump took aim at NFL players who knelt during the national anthem, Bloomberg reported. Trump called on the league’s 32 owners to fire any player who engaged in national anthem protests, triggering an ongoing war of words between his administration and NFL players and executives.

Sanderson Farms stock fell 13% in trading Thursday after the earnings miss. Shares of rival chicken producers Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson Foods also dropped.

The NFL has drawn criticism from both protest supporters and critics over its handling of the situation. The debate has unfolded amid a decline in television viewership of NFL games, though it’s unclear if the protests have played a significant role in the drop.

Sanderson isn’t the first executive to suggest NFL protests have impacted business. Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter said last month that the NFL’s anthem debate had a negative impact on sales and ripped league executives for “poor leadership.”

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

Other executives have dismissed any connection between the NFL protests and business. The CEO of Yum Brands, the parent company of Pizza Hut, said the company is “not seeing impact on any of our business” from the NFL’s performance.