As the National Football League persists in politicizing one of America's former favorite pastimes and Colin Kaepernick's "take a knee" protest against the American flag has festered and spread throughout the league, it seems no industry associated with professional football is safe from the fallout. Game day ratings have tumbled nearly 9% this season, down almost 19% from 2015. ESPN may be forced to cancel Monday Night Football as advertising revenues collapse. Beyond individual broadcasts, an estimated one million cable and satellite TV viewers cut the cord this month alone, adding to a total 22.2 million cord-cutters predicted by the end of the year, up 33.2% from last year. Now even a chain pizza is feeling the heat.
Papa John's founder and CEO John Schnatter suffered a $70 million loss to his net worth in less than 24 hours after the company released its third-quarter financial report on Tuesday. Investors responded swiftly, sending shares tumbling 11% before lunchtime and stabilizing around 9% by the end of the day. Management took no time in identifying cause of the sudden collapse.
During a conference call with investors on Wednesday, Schnatter placed blame squarely on the NFL. "The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle," he fumed. "NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders." League commissioner Roger Goodell did not escape Schnatter's ire. "Leadership starts at the top," explained the CEO. "And this is an example of poor leadership. This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago."
Papa John's has the misfortunate of being exposed to the NFL's incompetence on two fronts. The pizza chain thrives when football fans order pizza on gamedays, but perhaps more importantly, Papa John's has been the NFL's official pizza sponsor since 2010. All that may change, however, as the league's toxicity among former fans poisons more brands associated with it. Chief marketing officer Brandon Rhoten observed, "The NFL was eighth of the top 10 prime time shows. So it's experiencing a significant decline, which is leading us to have to look at other investment to create that consumer preference of our brand."
If league leadership insists on continuing to stoke on-field protests against The Star-Spangled Banner, one wonders how long other NFL advertisers like Buffalo Wild Wings and Kohl's will be able to maintain their affiliation with professional football before the silent majority of Americans brings the heat to bear on them too.