- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2017

John Schnatter, the CEO and face of Papa John's pizza, chewed out the NFL on Wednesday for its handling of the take-a-knee protests, saying the lingering controversy has taken a bite out of the pizza chain’s sales.

Mr. Schnatter, whose company has been the official pizza sponsor of the NFL since 2010, blamed the league’s “poor leadership” for Papa John's third-quarter drop in shares, which fell 11 percent Wednesday after revenue numbers were released.

“The NFL has been a long and valued partner over the years, but we are certainly disappointed that NFL and its leadership did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties,” Mr. Schnatter said on an earnings call, as reported by CNBC.

“This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” he said.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met two weeks ago with owners and players in an effort to address the ongoing protests, which began last year as a statement against the deaths of black men at the hands of police, but said afterward that he didn’t ask players to stand for the national anthem.

The NFL has seen its ratings drop this season, a slump that began last year and has been attributed to a host of factors, including fan anger over the protests, bad weather, poor officiating and sloppy play.

“The NFL situation has persisted in the pressure that it’s applying to our sales that has bled into the start of the fourth quarter,” said Steve Ritchie, chief operating officer, in the conference call.

The company’s comments come as the first indication that the ongoing protests are hurting the NFL’s sponsors.

“The NFL has hurt us and, more importantly, by not resolving the current debacle to the [players’ and owners’] satisfaction, NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's,” Mr. Schnatter said.

He added that, “Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership.”

Mr. Schnatter appears in commercials for Papa John's, often with recently retired Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who owns more than 30 of the pizza restaurants in the Denver area.

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith said Wednesday that the NFL should take heed of the company’s frustration.

“If you’re looking at this, the CEO for Papa John's is making sense, because he’s reminding everybody this comes down to brass tacks. This is about the bottom line,” Mr. Smith said on “First Take.”

“You have a salary cap that’s visited every single year,” he added. “If I’m losing dollars as a league, then ultimately the cap and the projected number that it was supposed to be at may not be met, and suddenly the numbers might be lower, and a result, fewer roster spots or fewer dollars are going to be available to the players.”

Mr. Smith suggested that the brouhaha could have been avoided if free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick had been hired.

Mr. Kaepernick, who became a leader of last year’s protests but opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March, has filed a complaint with the NFL accusing the owners of colluding against him.

“You [owners] need to ask yourself this one simple question: If we had simply made sure that Colin Kaepernick was in the National Football League, would any of this be happening?” Mr. Smith said.

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