Papa John’s issued an apology via its Twitter account Tuesday for having blamed disappointing quarterly earnings on NFL players’ protests during the national anthem. The pizza chain said that while it believes Americans “should honor the anthem,” it supports “the players’ movement to create a new platform for change.”
Earlier in the month, the founder and CEO of Papa John’s, John Schnatter, said that the NFL’s “controversy” was the result of the league’s “poor leadership” and “should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.” Without specifying the controversy to which he was referring, Schnatter said that it was hurting the NFL’s TV ratings and thus sales of his product, which is advertised heavily during games.
Papa John’s president and chief operating officer Steve Ritchie added at the time that his company has been the most recognized NFL sponsor for the past two years, suggesting that its success is more linked to that of the league than is the case for other pizza chains. He said that he expected the earnings decline for Papa John’s “to persist” until “a solution is put in place” by the NFL for its player protests.
“The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive,” Papa John’s said Tuesday. “That definitely was not our intention.
“We believe in the right to protest inequality and support the players’ movement to create a new platform for change. We also believe together, as Americans, we should honor our anthem. There is a way to do both.
“We will work with the players and league to find a positive way forward,” Papa John’s continued. “Open to ideas from all. Except neo-nazis — [middle-finger emoji] those guys.”
Schnatter’s original comments turned his company into an emblem of the political and cultural divide in the United States, with some people advocating boycotts of Papa John’s and others praising his stance. However, the company made efforts to distance itself from the quick approval of the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer, which posted an image of a pizza pie with pepperoni slices arranged into a swastika and suggested that Papa John’s was now the “official pizza of the alt-right.”
“We condemn racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it,” Papa John’s public relations executive Peter Collins said in a statement to the Huffington Post. “We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza.”
The chief marketing officer for Papa John’s, Brandon Rhoten, told Ad Age last week that his company was “talking about what next steps look like.” Despite the NFL’s ratings decline, Rhoten described the league as “still a gargantuan source of reach and benefit for brands” and said, “I can’t imagine we would walk away from the NFL, ever.”
“The question is: How do we allocate the funds to the NFL and, fundamentally, how do we broaden our media approach so we’re less beholden to whether ratings are up or down slightly?” Rhoten, who identified himself as doing the tweeting for Papa John’s Tuesday, added.
In addition to allowing itself to be perceived as opposed to players’ efforts to highlight racial injustice, Papa John’s has been drawn into Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’s feud with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other owners. Pro Football Talk recently reported that there is a “belief among owners” that Jones, who also owns many Papa John’s stores, “instigated” Schnatter to “disparage” the league.
Following a number of negative headlines that have likely damaged its brand, Papa John’s has apparently decided that one of its next steps is to proclaim its support for NFL players. It said Tuesday via Twitter that Schnatter “helped write and endorsed” its statement of apology.
In response to a Twitter user’s wry observation that Papa John’s “really needed 2 weeks to come up with a ‘sorry you were offended’ statement,” the company said, “We agree it took too long. It became obvious over the last week people didn’t understand our position. We should have followed our instincts and been more clear from the start.”
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