It’s out with the old and in with the new for the NFL, which named Pizza Hut as its newest official pizza sponsor just a day after competing chain Papa John’s cut ties with the football league.
On Tuesday, Papa John’s announced plans to kill its official sponsorship deal with the NFL, saying the company would shift its focus to specific teams and players, according to CEO Steve Ritchie. Papa John’s and the NFL released a joint statement, saying they made the mutual decision to ax the pizza chain’s official league sponsorship.
The announcement comes amid fallout from comments by former CEO John Schnatter, who slammed the NFL for allowing players to kneel during the national anthem and blamed on-field protests for the company’s slump in sales back in November.
“… We are totally disappointed that the NFL and its leadership did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties long ago,” Schnatter said at the time. “This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”
Schnatter resigned from his role as CEO a month later.
With Papa John’s out the of the picture, Pizza Hut will now be able to work with the league on local deals with the teams, including game ticketing and fan experiences, according to CNBC. The sponsorship is set to begin with the 2018 NFL Draft, which will take place near Pizza Hut’s headquarters in Dallas, Texas.
“There’s so many things that we are excited about,” Artie Starrs, the president of Pizza Hut’s U.S. division, told CNBC. “At our core we are an innovative, entertaining brand and I think that’s what the NFL is too.”
Starrs said he hopes the deal will help the company expand into new markets and buoy its digital and delivery initiatives.
Pizza Hut and Papa John’s have been longtime competitors, but their rivalry intensified late last year after Greg Creed, CEO of Pizza Hut’s parent company Yum Brands, shaded Schnatter for his comments suggesting the player protests were to blame for his subpar pizza sales.
“We’re not seeing impact on any of that on our business,” Creed said in a call with investors, according to Business Insider. Schnatter’s comments also drew a snarky response from frozen pizza company DiGiorio, who tweeted, “Better Pizza. Better Sales.”
It looks like Pizza Hut is the one who came out on top.