- During opening week, Major League Baseball reinstated its promotional partnership with Papa John's. This reversal comes after the league suspended its promotion with the company in June after founder John Schnatter's racist comments were unveiled, according to Nation's Restaurant News.
- The reinstatement was not formally announced. However, MLB mentioned the pizza chain on Twitter after an opening-day grand slam last week. A representative from Papa John's confirmed to the publication that some local partnerships have been reinstated with select MLB teams.
- The "Papa Slam" promotion rewards customers with 30% off total orders any time a player hits a grand slam. The previous promotion was 40% off, but the offer was good for pizza only.
Toward the end of the last MLB season there were rumors that some teams were reinstating partnerships to support local franchisees, but having a full, uninterrupted season with the MLB promotion will help with slumping sales. The company ended 2018 with sales down more than 7%, and net income down by $72 million.
That MLB wouldn't publicize the reinstatement of the promotion other than a tweet seems to illustrate there is still some trepidation about outwardly embracing the Papa John's brand after its tumultuous year. Still, MLB seems to like what it sees from the brand's rehabilitation efforts. A Papa John's spokesperson told Nation's Restaurant News that the MLB reinstated the promotion because of the steps the company has taken to change. Those changes have certainly been extensive thus far.
For starters, the chain just launched a new loyalty program, is partnering with athletes and social media influencers for campaigns aimed at improving its image and named NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal to its board. O'Neal is the first African-American member to serve on the company's board. Papa John's has also removed Schnatter's image from its marketing materials, kicked in millions to assist franchisees and hired its first ever chief people officer and a chief of diversity, equity and inclusion.
The timing of this reinstatement is favorable considering the pizza giant just hired Karlin Linhardt to serve as its global chief marketing officer. The role had been unfilled since May. The promotion could also provide a boost for the company that lost its major NFL promotional partnership in favor of rival Pizza Hut. Sports sponsorship accounts for the largest sector of the sponsorship industry, and restaurant brands chase them for their high profiles. Though baseball isn't as popular in the U.S. as the NFL — and the end of Papa John's NFL sponsorship is a big loss — the all-American game of baseball has plenty of fans for Papa John's exposure nonetheless. The MLB has approximately 7.1 million fans on the its Facebook page. Total MLB league revenue in 2017 amounted to $9.46 billion, the highest ever.
If anything, the MLB's vote of confidence could inspire consumers to follow suit as the company continues its slow but steady turnaround process.