WATCH: Top NFL Advertiser Issues Massive Warning, It’s Getting Serious

NFL leadership is seemingly caught between their fans and their players. The league refuses to take disciplinary action against players who kneel in protest during the national anthem, which to many patriotic fans suggests complicity in a lack of respect for the flag.

The NFL may find itself in even greater distress if sponsors begin to pull out. One of the league’s most prominent sponsors is already claiming to feel the effects of the anthem protests. Dan Kaplan of Sports Business Journal told Fox Business’s Neil Cavuto that the national pizza chain Papa John’s in-game pizza sales are down–and it attributes the drop to the national anthem protests. 

Kaplan explained the seriousness of one of the NFL’s top sponsors raising concerns. “If you see a sponsor pull out, ” Kaplan said, “at that point, the owners can no longer say we have our players’ backs. It’s business. And maybe the players themselves will understand that.”

If Papa John’s decided to break their long-time relationship with the NFL, they wouldn’t be the first football sponsor to do so. Christian News Alerts reported that in September, Hardwick Clothes CEO Allan Jones cut his ties to the NFL, saying “Our companies will not condone unpatriotic behavior!”

In another devastating blow from a sponsor, Christian News Alerts noted that Flemington Auto Dealership Colossus stopped giving the NFL advertising dollars because it has allowed players to keep kneeling while the national anthem is played.

Flemington Auto’s owner, Steve Kalafer, made his opposition to the widespread protests clear: “The National Football League and its owners have shown their fans and marketing partners that they do not have a comprehensive policy to ensure that players stand and show respect for America and our flag during the playing of the National Anthem.”

According to the Papa John’s website, the popular food chain has been the Official Pizza Sponsor of the NFL since 2010. Papa John’s uses the NFL logo on its pizza boxes, merchandise, and marketing. Popular players like Peyton Manning and JJ Watt promote the pizza franchise in ads.

This relationship has allowed Papa John’s to become the most recognized brand of pizza among NFL fans. In fact, Papa John’s is the preferred pizza of 23 NFL clubs across America.

But the Louisville, Kentucky-based chain has been re-evaluating its business relationship with the NFL since earlier this year. As Fox News notes, Papa John’s had weak sales in the last quarter of 2016, resulting in an eight percent drop in the value of its stock in February. The pizza company’s leadership attributed the drop, in part, to a decline in NFL ratings.

“We’ve seen ratings down 8 percent for the season,” Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie said in February. “We’ve made a significant investment in the NFL. An 8-percent decline in ratings played a small factor in some of our performance.” And this was before President Donald Trump criticized protesting NFL players, a move that led to more protests, which in turn resulted in fans boycotting games.

Papa John’s believes their sales are down because they advertise during NFL games. Should Papa John’s continue advertising during games?

While the falling sales of Papa John’s preceded the explosive kneeling controversy, it is still possible the pizza chain is feeling the effects of an increasingly unpopular NFL. The players themselves may well be the cause of this.

The Daily Wire reports that an NFL player is arrested on average every seven days. Often, it is on charges of battery, assault, and domestic abuse. As players tarnish the league’s reputation, fans are losing interest.