Better excuses. Better comedy. Papa John’s.
More people love a good laugh than love pizza. It’s true, there are lactose intolerant folks out there, after all. This week brought an incredible laugh over pizza as John Schattner, the “Papa” of the world’s top Peyton Manning-franchising “pizza” chain, blamed his company’s flagging sales on the National Football League’s continuing social issues.
Referring to protests by football players against institutionalized racism in America in remarks on a quarterly earnings call, Schattner said: “This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago. Like many sponsors, we are in contact with the NFL and once the issue is resolved between players and the owners, we are optimistic that the NFL’s best years are ahead. But good or bad, leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership.”
Yes, that’s right, the thought process here is that people are angry at the NFL for not forcing players to stand for the national anthem, and therefore those people are taking out that anger on NFL sponsors, such as Papa John’s. Yet, as far as stock prices go among major NFL sponsors, Papa John’s is down over the past year, while Anheuser-Busch, Nike, and Ford all are up. Because while it’s not insane to believe that people might target advertisers when hoping to make social change – suggesting just that is what got Jemele Hill suspended by ESPN – there has been no evidence of any such thing happening on a scale large enough to impact anyone’s bottom line.
Also, Papa John’s is the official pizza of Major League Baseball, which just wrapped up an exciting season that included 133 grand slams, the most in 10 years. That’s significant because every time there’s a grand slam in MLB now, Papa John’s gives customers who use a promo code 40% off regularly-priced pizzas. It’s no “Steal A Base, Steal A Taco,” but the “Papa Slam” is a tangible connection between the sport and a sponsor.
Since Schattner didn’t call out MLB at all, we’ll assume that he’s happy with how that’s all working out, yet the fact remains that Papa John’s business is in the toilet, and hardly for the first time, as anyone knows who has sampled the product.
Because Imo’s is only a St. Louis establishment, Papa John’s is the worst widely-available pizza in the United States, no matter how Deadspin’s staff tries to slander Pizza Hut, which by comparison is Famous Original Ray’s. For heaven’s sake, Papa John’s gives you dipping sauce with pizza, as if that’s a normal or reasonable thing that pizza requires. No, it’s because, like giving a pill to a dog, you have to disguise Papa John’s pizza with food in order to choke it down.
So, mediocre purveyors of pizza all over got to spend time repeatedly dunking on Papa John’s, which is delightful. They’re all doing fine, because despite not having very good pizza, they’re all better than Papa John’s. And while you might expect that the NFL’s struggles could be reflected in an across the board dip for the pizza industry, as a result of fewer people eating pizza, that is not the case at all.
It’s been quite a year for Schattner, who bullied the University of Louisville athletic department in the spring, then saw the Cardinals’ program thrown into chaos in the fall with basketball coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich shown the door in disgrace amid an a nationwide FBI investigation into recruiting misdeeds. And now Schattner is embarrassing himself taking shots at the NFL, possibly at the behest of Papa John’s franchisee Jerry Jones in an attempt to overthrow commissioner Roger Goodell.
But if Schattner really does want to get away from the NFL, there’s plenty of room for growth in Papa John’s partnership with baseball. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the “Here Comes The Pizza” incident at a Red Sox-Angels game, when a guy got ejected from Fenway Park after throwing a full slice of pizza at another fan along the third base line, in a moment captured forever on television. What better way to reinvigorate Papa John’s business than by sponsoring pizza-throwing contests across America?
It beats the idea of eating that stuff.