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Pizza Hut takes Papa John's place as NFL sponsor

The Yum Brands chain has inked a multiyear deal with the league.

Down, set, Pizza Hut?

The Plano, Texas-based pizza chain is now the official pizza of the NFL, both the company and the league announced on Wednesday.

The multiyear deal between the NFL and Pizza Hut includes exclusive marketing rights, benefits and designations that will connect the brand with the NFL, its teams, players and events. The sponsorship will make Pizza Hut the most visible pizza brand during the league’s games.

“Pizza Hut has the creativity we are looking for in a partner and we look forward to working together with them to make the at-home NFL experience more exciting than ever for our fans,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

The announcement of the new partnership came one day after the NFL and Papa John’s announced a “mutual” parting of the ways, and Papa John’s said it would take its marketing in another direction.  

That decision came after Papa John’s said its same-store sales declined 3.9% in the last three months of 2017. The chain’s founder and former CEO John Schnatter had in November blamed slowing sales on poor NFL ratings, and then harshly criticized the league for failing to address national anthem protests by players, which he said was the cause of those poor ratings.

The sponsorship is considered key, given that pizza is a commonly ordered item during football games. Papa John’s marketed heavily during NFL games and used its sponsorship to help fuel massive growth in its digital ordering strategies.

Schnatter himself appeared in the chain’s ads alongside NFL players such as former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. No restaurant chain was as closely associated to a single sponsorship quite like Papa John’s was with the NFL.

Pizza Hut is gladly stepping into the void that Papa John’s is leaving. The chain operates 7,500 locations in the U.S. and is working to reinvigorate sales after falling behind rival Domino’s Pizza as the country’s largest pizza purveyor.

The chain’s NFL sponsorship will start with the 2018 NFL draft in April, which is to be held in North Dallas, near Pizza Hut’s headquarters.

The sponsorship gets Pizza Hut in front of the “tens of millions of fans” who are watching NFL games at home every week, Artie Starrs, president of Pizza Hut U.S., said in a statement.

“The capacity for what’s possible is endless, and that’s going to make this league partnership great fun for Pizza Hut, the NFL, and everyone who loves pizza and football,” Starrs said.

The sponsorship with the NFL includes the collective use of the trademarks of all 32 NFL teams. It also involves the league working closely with the pizza chain to facilitate local, exclusive team sponsorships.

Pizza Hut will have the opportunity to leverage game tickets and fan experiences to all NFL games in marketing and promotional campaigns.

“The opportunity to align in an official capacity with the NFL is a tremendous opening for a brand and product that is so neatly aligned with the football-watching occasion like pizza and Pizza Hut,” Andy Rosen, a Pizza Hut operator and chairman of the chain’s Franchise Board of Directors, said in a statement. “Our system is aligned behind this partnership.”

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