It seems that the NFL’s national anthem protests have damaged the league’s reputation permanently, as key sponsors are withdrawing their support from the organization.
With NFL ratings reaching record lows, long-time partner and sponsor of the league, Papa John’s, has pulled their advertisements from the games, saying, “The NFL has hurt Papa John’s shareholders,” according to Fox 59.
The pizza restaurant company, which has been a sponsor of the games since 2010 as well as having an endorsement deal with Peyton Manning, expressed concerns that their sales and profits have shrunk since President Trump criticized the protesting NFL players.
CEO John Schnatter was vocal in blaming NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying, “Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership” during a conference call with investors. “The NFL has hurt Papa John’s shareholders,” he lamented.
Goodell had put out a memo which called for each NFL team to cease the protests, saying, “We believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem,” and that “We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.” However, at a league meeting last month, Goodell and the NFL owners opted not to enact consequences for players who fail to stand during the anthem.
Papa John’s stock has fallen 24 percent this year, while most of its competitors have performed impressively, with Dominos stock rising by 12 percent. Although there are many possible explanations, Schnatter puts the majority of the blame on the NFL.
“This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” Schnatter said. “The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country.”
“It indeed appears that National Football League strife may be weighing on same-store sales to some degree, with Papa John’s as the NFL’s Official Pizza Sponsor bearing some brunt of this issue,” Instinet analysts wrote in a research note Tuesday. “Sponsorship of NFL = No Free Lunch.”
Nor was Papa John’s the only sponsor to express concerns with the league. USAA reportedly said it was in contact with the league on a similar topic. “You certainly have sponsors that have raised issues for certain teams. Even though it is contractually obligated, you have to work with those people,” said Jed York, owner of the San Francisco 49ers, according to The New York Business Journal.
York has been adamant in defending his players’ rights to protest the anthem, saying that bringing light to the social problems facing this country is more important than any economic impact that might have on the league. While some owners agree with York’s sentiments, others, such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, want to expunge these political demonstrations from the league entirely.
Over the past few months, numerous polls and indications have shown the NFL has been suffering thanks to the prevalence of these protests. A Rasmussen Poll published in September revealed that 34 percent of NFL fans are less likely to follow the games because of this, and with the league struggling to fill seats in smaller stadiums, according to Forbes, it’s clear that the league is floundering.
Papa John’s is no longer going to advertise during NFL games because the players’ national anthem protests were hurting their shareholders. Should more sponsors pull their ads for the NFL?
“The fact is, we have about half a dozen players that are protesting,” Goodell told reporters last week. “We are hoping to continue to try and work and get that to zero.”
How long that’s going to take is yet to be determined, but it appears that both fans, as well as sponsors, are getting tired of waiting.