One day after Papa John's CEO John Schnatter claimed that decreased TV viewership in response to NFL player protests over racial inequality was causing a decline in business, Pizza Hut said on Thursday that NFL boycotts have not caused any decline in business.
Yum Brands, parent company of Pizza Hut, held an investors' conference call on Thursday and declared same-store sales were up 3 percent. That is compared to just a 1 percent increase for Papa John's.
While Schnatter cited the response to NFL player protests as the reason for lower-than-expected growth at Papa John's, Yum Brands offered no such criticism.
"We're not seeing any impact from any of that on our business," Yum Brands CEO Greg Creed said.
While Creed admitted that live sports is important facet of business, he said other factors such as food quality are important.
"The foundations are not always sexy, but I think delivering hot, reliable pizza is important, and I do believe the team is making progress on all the areas in the foundation that will enable us to build, longer term, a strong Pizza Hut position," Creed added.
Schnatter, on the other hand, called the player protests during the national anthem a "debacle."
“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction… NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders,” he said on Wednesday.
Just as Colin Kaepernick began leading protests among some NFL players last August, Papa John's renewed its contract to be the official pizzeria of the NFL. The brand has also aligned itself with popular NFL personalities, such as former Indianapolis Colts great Peyton Manning.
But some on social media are accusing Schnatter, who was a donor to President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, of playing politics.
According to campaign filings, Schnatter donated $1,000 to Trump's campaign last year. He also donated $33,400 to the Republican National Committee last August.
Earlier in the NFL season, Trump delivered a sharp rebuke of players who kneeled or sat during the national anthem. Also, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a Colts game before kickoff, per the orders of the President, due to members of the 49ers taking a knee during the national anthem.
But there is no question NFL viewership is down in 2017 compared to 2016. According to Fox Sports, viewership has declined from an average of 15.6 million viewers per game to 14.8 million at the same point last year.
"This year, the ratings have gone backwards because of the controversy. And so the controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country, and that’s the big difference here," Schnatter said.