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Papa John’s Apologizes for Criticizing NFL Protests after Backlash on Social Media

Papa John's pizzeriaAfter Papa John's CEO took a stand against the NFL leadership and players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice and police violence, claiming his company's third quarter earnings had been affected, John Schnatter somewhat retreated yesterday on Twitter with a different message from his company, a national sponsor of the NFL.

"The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive. That definitely was not our intention," the tweet said. Papa John's [Nasdaq:PZZA] stock prices dropped by more than 5 percent from the start of the 2017 NFL season to November 1, Sports Illustrated said. Now NYDailyNews reports say the stock has fallen 12 percent since initial comments.

Papa John's also tweeted that it supports the "players' movement to create a new platform for change" but that it also believes that "as Americans, we should honor our anthem." The tweet expressed, "We will work with the players and league to find a positive way forward. Open to ideas from all. Except neo-nazis," adding a "middle finger" emoji to "those guys."

On Papa John's investor conference call of November 1, Schnatter expressed that the NFL had been a long and valued partner of his company over the years, but they were disappointed that the NFL leadership "did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties." The CEO said the matter "should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago," referring to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's leadership.

Recognized as the official pizza company of the NFL, Schnatter stated that Papa John's was one of the league's biggest television advertisers, and has been a league sponsor since 2010. On the conference call, officials said that they had already pulled much of their NFL television advertising, and that the NFL responded by giving Papa John's additional future spots. Later, a spokesperson for the chain clarified that the spots themselves weren't being pulled, just the NFL shield or "official sponsor" designation on those spots.

Last week Papa John's said it was re-evaluating its massive business venture with one of the biggest sports leagues in the world. Papa John's president Steve Ritchie told The Wall Street Journal, "If the viewership decline continues, we will need to shift into things that work more effectively for us." CNBC reported that top executives told the Wall Street Journal that the company is completely rethinking its advertising strategy as consumers cut the cord and move to digital.

Papa John's tweetDespite a drop in popularity for the league, only a few companies have actually pulled their ads from games, according to early in October. But Fox News reported that Allan Jones, who owns Check Into Cash and Hardwick Clothes, was the biggest sponsor to go; he dropped ads in all 29 states in which his business operates.

The report said if Papa John's were to go, the chain would be the first national sponsor to cut ties with the league over its anthem protests. "If the company were to do so and the backlash was not extreme, other companies could follow the same course of action." The chair of advertising sales at NBCUniversal told Business Insider earlier this month that sponsors have threatened to pull ads from NBC's Sunday Night Football broadcasts if the network continues covering the NFL national anthem protests.

"Hence, the NFL had been warned. The league is on the brink of losing one major sponsor and possibly more. If major companies decide to go through with their threats, the NFL may be forced to rethink its stance on kneeling during the playing of the national anthem — and what protests like that truly mean."

Papa John's earlier remarks on neo-Nazis prompted white supremacists to endorse the chain as their go-to source of pizza, an idea the company rejected. A spokesman for Papa John's said it posted the tweets because "it became obvious over the last week people didn't understand our position."

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About Janet Sparks

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Janet Sparks is the former publisher of the Continental Franchise Review, an industry newsletter that covered the franchise community for over 30 years. She has also been a columnist for a leading franchise magazine for the past 13 years. Today she is an independent journalist who engages in investigative reporting, tackling complex issues that impact the franchise industry.

Janet can be reached at or at 303-799-7398.