‘The NFL Has Hurt Us.’ Papa John’s CEO Blames Player Protests for Sliding Pizza Sales
The top executive at NFL sponsor Papa John’s is disappointed over the league’s handling of ongoing player protests during the national anthem.
The protests have hurt the pizza chain’s sales and profits, according to founder and CEO John Schnatter.
“The NFL has hurt us. More importantly, by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction. NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders,” said Schnatter during a call to discuss the company’s third quarter earnings. “This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”
The protests began just more than a year ago, after former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem, in the hopes of bringing more attention to police violence against African Americans. The phenomenon received increased attention earlier this year after President Donald Trump encouraged the citizens to boycott the NFL when players knelt. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell meanwhile has been trying to come to a compromise.
“Leadership starts at the top.” Schnatter continued. “And this is an example of poor leadership.”
The remarks came after the pizza maker told investors to lower their expectations for sales in 2017. The company said North American same-store sales, a key measure of the company’s operations that strips out new locations, would grow 1.5% for 2017, instead of the 2% to 4% range previously stated. Earnings per share would also come in lower, growing just 3% to 7% against the 8% to 12% previously expected.
Shares fell by 12% as of mid-day trading Wednesday.
Papa John’s is an NFL sponsor, and has often been recognized in tandem with the league. According to Papa John’s leadership, that association has only hurt the pizza-maker’s brand in the past few months. Meanwhile, NFL ratings have also fallen—a point that Papa John’s has also blamed on the ongoing protests — which presumably also lowers the number of people watching the chain’s ads and eating its pizza.
“Like many sponsors, we’re in touch with the NFL. Once the issue is resolved, we’re optimistic the NFL’s best years are ahead,” Schnatter said.
The comments drew the ire of some social media users, including suspended ESPN host Jemele Hill, who took the comments as insensitive.
Fortune has reached out to Papa John’s for comment.