Pizza chain Papa Johns found itself in bad sauce yesterday when its CEO claimed that the negative perception of the NFL – since players started refusing to stand for the national anthem to protest racial inequality – have hurt the company’s sales.
According to ESPN company founder and CEO John Schnatter said: “We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this.” The official pizza chain of the NFL, Papa Johns has reviewed its NFL television advertising, removing the NFL shield or “official sponsor” designation on those spots.
Schnatter said that he felt that the issue should have been resolved by now, especially as players taking the knee is now in its second season after members of the San Francisco 49ers, and in particular then quarterback Colin Kaepernick, began protesting against police brutality against African-Americans as part of the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Obviously this is a massive PR disaster for Papa Johns, especially as competitor Pizza Hut said Wednesday that the NFL kneeling protests are not affecting sales, and will likely see a boost in business as a result of Papa Johns.
The difficulty here is that it is hard to see how the ‘taking a knee’ protest will ever come to an end, as there will be need for players and fellow protestors to see a change in attitudes that is difficult to be recorded. So, I anticipate that the taking a knee protest could continue for many years and it’s not really a surprise that this has not been resolved by NFL leadership. Whether it be team owners, or all the way to the sport’s management, it’s hard to supress a movement when so many are in tune with it and the cause is so relevant to America’s recent civil rights history.
As for Papa Johns, I don’t think we are quite at Gerald Ratner levels of PR disaster, but undermining one of the most significant civil rights protests in sport – one that is reminiscent of the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute – will hurt the company for now, and divide supporters who are for or against the protests.