One of the more bizarre offshoots of the debate about NFL kneelers this season has come from the CEO of the Papa John’s pizza chain, who recently blamed the controversy for his company’s falling sales.
“The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country. NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders… This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.” John Schnatter said.
Others are claiming Schnatter is just using the NFL controversy to mask his company’s sales slump. Yum Brands CEO Greg Creed said his brand, Pizza Hut, is still going gangbusters, “We’re not seeing any impact from any of that on our business.”
Market watchers, for the most part, appear to agree with Creed. Competition is fierce and getting fiercer in the pizza and fast food market, especially now that delivery is becoming more common. With burger joints and chicken places now offering easy ordering and delivery, pizza joints don’t have as much of a corner on the market.
That said, the NFL is definitely slumping. Fewer people – a lot fewer people – are watching this season. Numbers have dropped nearly one million on average, week-to-week. Some might blame the shortfall on poor games and lopsided scores, but that’s naïve at best. There’s little doubt the drop-off has to do with the furor over players protesting police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem.
That, market watchers argue, is likely affecting NFL viewership, but really isn’t hurting fast food sales. Papa John’s is protesting too much. Papa John’s argues their close association with the NFL and former stars like Peyton Manning, make them an easy target for boycotting fans.
So… who’s right?
That, at this point, depends on who you ask. Without being able to make any definitive statements one way or the other, the general public is left to their intuition as to which narrative seems the most accurate. Those who generally support the players are more likely to agree with Creed that everything is status quo.
However, those who think the players are out of line will likely side with Schnatter and use Papa John’s as an example of how the NFL’s “poor leadership” is impacting American business. They want NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to take drastic and immediate action to force players to stand.
Schnatter would like to see the NFL step up, and he clearly believes that will put his sales back on track. In the meantime, the debate and controversy continue to spill out into the consumer marketplace. Many businesses have done their best to stay out of the fray, but others have picked a side. Whatever happens next, it’s a cinch this controversy and the fallout from it are not going away anytime soon.