What is going on with Papa John’s founder and the NFL?

NFL, Sports Biz

Fans wondering why Papa John’s Pizza jokes are littering their Twitter feed should follow the money.

In the sport entertainment business, local and national partnerships like that which exists between Papa John’s Pizza and the NFL along with many of its member franchises are potentially worth millions of dollars. Because of that, expectations are high, and so is the potential for disappointment. That disappointment with the partnership is exactly what Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter conveyed on Wednesday.

The situation that Schnatter is referring to is the recent controversy in the NFL regarding player advocacy, specifically player demonstrations to raise awareness of what they perceive as racial injustice during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” before NFL games.

There’s no mistaking Schnatter’s comments about the NFL’s leadership, which is personified by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Those comments become more intriguing when placed against a backdrop of other facts.

Papa John’s not only has a national sponsorship contract with the entire NFL, but also individual partnerships with many specific NFL teams. The Dallas Cowboys are one of those franchises.

Like Schnatter, Dallas Cowboys general manager/owner Jerry Jones has been critical of Goodell for his handling of the player demonstrations, even to the point of trying to deny Goodell an extension of his current contract.

Whether this is coordinated activity or merely a coincidence will probably never be known, and may be irrelevant. What’s more clear is that this isn’t the first time that Schnatter has tried to blame external forces for his chain of pizza joints underperforming.

In 2012, Schnatter went on the record stating that his franchises would have to raise menu prices because of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which compelled the business to offer health care coverage to its millions of employees. When the menu price increases went into effect, any extra revenue created wasn’t shared with many Papa John’s employees, however. At some franchises, the situation actually got worse.

In 2016, four franchise owners were ordered to pay half a million dollars in back wages to 250 employees who had been forced to work overtime without being compensated at the state-mandated overtime rate. On top of one of those franchisees serving jail time, one of the results of that fiasco was a nationwide boycott of Papa John’s franchises.

Schnatter has yet to offer up any feedback or research that points toward consumer displeasure with player demonstrations during NFL games diminishing the number of orders at Papa John’s franchises, although he is in as good of a position as anyone to comment on the business’ dealings.

Whether or not the NFL will respond to Schnatter’s comments with any action other than what they have already taken in regards to player demonstrations remains to be seen, but what’s clear is that Schnatter is using the situation to put a spin out in the media that his business is being harmed.

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