Pizza Hut Slaps Down Papa John’s Claim that NFL National Anthem Protests Hurt Sales

November 2, 2017, 2:36 PM UTC

A day after Papa John’s CEO claimed that player protests in the NFL were responsible for lower sales at the chain, the man in charge of Pizza Hut says that’s ridiculous.

“We’re not seeing impact on any of that on our business,” Greg Creed, CEO of Yum Brands—parent company of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and other chains—said in a call with investors on Thursday. Yum Brands posted third-quarter earnings and revenue that beat analyst forecasts, due in part to Pizza Hut’s improved performance.

The two pizza chains—it should be said—do not have identical relationships with the National Football League. Pizza Hut is the official sponsor of the NCAA, while Papa John’s is an official NFL sponsor. (It also counts Peyton Manning as one of its largest franchisers and he and CEO John Schnatter regularly appear jointly in commercials during NFL games.)

On Wednesday, Schnatter said his company’s association with the league has hurt his business, as the controversy surrounding players’ national anthem protests drags on and NFL ratings fall. It’s worth noting, though, that NFL ratings have been declining for some time. Overall NFL ratings were down 9% in the 2016 regular season and fell 6% during the playoffs, according to MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson. ESPN’s Monday Night Football was down 13%, while NBC’s Sunday Night Football fell 11%, per Nathanson.

During the 2016 season, Papa John’s reported system-wide North American sales increases of 3.5% for the year.

The NFL anthem protests began just over a year ago, after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback 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.