Pizza and Beer Brands Swap Football Sponsorships


Pizza Hut / NFL sponsor

One brand’s loss is another’s gain, as Papa John’s decision to terminate its NFL deal has opened the door for the No. 2 global pizza chain to take over from No. 3 and become the official pizza sponsor of the National Football League.

Papa John’s new CEO, Steve Ritchie, announced on Tuesday during its quarterly earnings call that it was ending its NFL contract, making it the first sponsor to quit mid-way through a deal. The chain once again reported a decline in domestic same-store sales on the call.

Papa John's NFL statement

According to its statement, the company plans to diversify its media investments and focus on new platforms to spread the word about Papa John’s pizza quality and its tagline, “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.” But Ritchie said Papa John’s will continue its marketing relationships with 22 specific teams as well as with certain NFL personalities.

Pizza Hut didn’t waste any time seizing the opportunity, and quickly finalized a deal with the league to become the new Official Pizza Sponsor of the NFL. The involvement by Yum! Brands-owned Pizza Hut will begin with the NFL draft, which is taking place this spring in Dallas near Pizza Hut’s Plano, Texas, headquarters, and also will involve each of the league’s 32 teams.

The league’s multi-year agreement with Pizza Hut will offer the chain “a vast array of exclusive marketing rights, benefits, and designations that will unmistakably connect the brand with the NFL and its teams, players, events, partners, properties and the many NFL experiences that capture the passion of consumers and football fans from all over the world.”

“NFL stadiums are packed every week but tens of millions of fans are also watching the game at home,” stated Pizza Hut U.S. president Artie Starrs. “We have an unmatched ability to bring those fans closer to the sport thanks to the power of our 7,500 restaurants and 150,000 football-crazed [employees]. The capacity for what’s possible is endless and that’s going to make this league partnership great fun.”

Passing the Baton

After many years of promoting its partnership with the league, including ads starring Schnatter slinging pizzas with star quarterback Peyton Manning, the relationship soured last year after Schnatter claimed that the league’s handling of the “take a knee” anthem protests was hurting sales.

After the predictable swirl of controversy on social media and elsewhere, Schnatter announced in December he would relinquish the CEO title but remain chairman.

It’s now up to Pizza Hut to leverage the NFL to will boost its brand and bottom line, and counter headwinds such as the league’s TV ratings challenges and continuing controversies such as the sport’s literal impact on players’ health.

Jonathan Jensen, associate professor of sports marketing at the University of North Carolina, told brandchannel that “the real winner here is Pizza Hut, and the NFL to a lesser extent. It has been fortuitous that in one move Pizza Hut has been able to secure a partnership with the NFL while at the same time a key competitor lost a significant strategic partner.”

Jensen added that “Pizza Hut may also be a better strategic partner for the NFL given their institutional knowledge of leveraging a national sports property like the NCAA, their ability to work with longtime fellow NFL sponsor Pepsi, and their location in Dallas, a key NFL market.”

The NFL, he added, “gets to move beyond the issues with the former partner and start fresh with a new partner who’s excited about leveraging the NFL on a national basis.”

This Bud’s For You

Another iconic American brand has just taken over a major football league sponsorship—only this time, ‘football’ is soccer.

In the UK, Budweiser has just replaced Carlsberg as the official beer of the England men’s national team, marking the biggest deal in the Football Association‘s (FA) history.

Just as Papa John’s is changing marketing tactics, Carlsberg announced last week it was ending its 22-year sponsorship of the FA, shift its focus to live events and other sporting events.

Budweiser The Football Association sponsorship 2018

“This is the largest Official Beer Partnership deal that we have ever done, which allows us to continue to invest in all areas of the game,” said Mark Bullingham, FA commercial director.

Since 2012, Budweiser has invested more than £1.3m into English football through initiatives such as the Budweiser Club Futures programme, which makes an annual grant to a grassroots football club competing in the FA Cup.

Its new FA deal starts in the 2018-19 season and will allow “significant investments” back into every level of English football and further support grassroots initiatives throughout the UK.

The deal also includes significant investment to upgrade the fan experience at Wembley Stadium, where AB InBev will serve its premium brands on match days. The move should boost Budweiser’s growing popularity among UK drinkers, with sales for the most recent financial year up 15%, £49.2m in 2016.

Jason Warner, president, North Europe at AB InBev, said the brand was pleased to strenghten its ties to football and tap into some of the “nation’s biggest cultural moments” through the partnership.

“A trip to see England play at Wembley Stadium is an unforgettable experience, so we are delighted to help the bars at Wembley Stadium amplify it even further, both through Budweiser and the power of our brands from our premium AB InBev portfolio.

​”We are also proud that all profits will go into nurturing the future Harry Kanes and Raheem Sterlings, as well as supporting grassroots initiatives.”