Media 'pile-on' shows Papa John's CEO really stepped in it this time

| by S.A. Whitehead
Media 'pile-on' shows Papa John's CEO really stepped in it this time

In case you're a pizza restaurateur who has been hiding under a rock since Halloween, you should know that Papa John's CEO John Schnatter has stirred up a whole mess of trouble for his Louisville-based pizza empire this week after the brands Q3 domestic sales ended up being relatively weak.

Instead of maybe shifting focus to the company's much stronger international sales or just taking the hit, Schnatter decided to jump on the anti-NFL bandwagon and actually pin his company's poor performance on that hyper-newsworthy topic of some players kneeling during the national anthem.

"NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders," said the chain's CEO, John Schnatter, in a call with analysts Wednesday. "This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago."

Oh yes, everybody from our nation's president to the 10-year-old boy down the street seems to have a strong opinion on how the NFL has handled the protests displayed by some of its players, whose "kneeling movement" has sparked much debate. Since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started this action during the national anthem at a game last year over the treatment of black men by police in the U.S., many other players have echoed this action.

But NFL sponsor and advertiser, Papa John's and it's outspoken CEO is the first business to blame the protest action and the NFL's handling of it for the loss of sales. Indeed, strong sentiment around the protest issue is being blamed for a fall in NFL television ratings this year, but Schnatter is the first to connect the issue to whether or not people hungry for pizza order from his company or a competitor.

This would be the ultimate case of guilt by association since Schnatter's allegations not only take as fact that any negative feelings fans have for the NFL and/or its handling of this issue extends to its advertisers and sponsors.

It's a leap that few media outlets, sports or culture commentators today could let pass without an expletive or an exclamation point, as the fault-finding CEO's statements have triggered a literal landslide of derision in the press and elsewhere. Just look at the headlines on some of the coverage and you'll get an idea:

On Univision sports site Deadspin, the clearly subjective is headlined, "Did Crybaby Loser Papa John Also Lose Our Chain Pizza Rankings?" Meanwhile, larger news and sports sites took more traditional approaches that still managed to portray the brand in something short of the best light.

At CNBC, the online article slugged, "Papa John's slams NFL leadership for lackluster pizza sales as shares sink more than 10%," while CBS plainly states, "Papa John's CEO blames NFL protests for poor pizza sales."

Aside from those are far more castigating sentiments all over social media, most of which Pizza Marketplace prefers not to print here. But, the image and words pulled off Twitter and displayed here give you a good idea of the tone.

In essence, the lessons learned from Schnatter's comments make clear that wholesale blaming of your brand's problems on someone or something else had best be backed up with some rock-hard facts.

But better yet, there are times when it just pays to keep your mouth shut.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Financial News, Marketing / Branding / Promotion

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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