- Several Major League Baseball (MLB) teams that recently cut ties with Papa John's have been quietly reinstating their partnerships with the pizza brand, according to a report in the New York Post.
- Some of the moves are a show of solidarity with local franchisees of the pizza chain, who have experienced falling sales and boycotts following a slew of controversies impacting its brand. The New York Yankees decided to restore its partnership to support the local franchises that weren't involved with racist comments, including use of the n-word, that Papa John's founder John Schnatter used on a call with the brand's marketing team earlier this year.
- The Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers have also brought back their promotions with the pizza chain. The MLB may also be re-establishing its "Papa Slam" promotion, sources told the Post. Papa John's announced last week that it is reducing some franchisees' fees to help them deal with the fallout from the controversy.
MLB teams restoring their partnerships with Papa John's suggests the struggling brand still has some support in areas where it counts, including professional sports sponsorships that have been a key aspect of its marketing. Teams' shows of solidarity with local franchisees also enforce Papa John's current positioning that it's not defined by an individual, which will likely become a broader part of its messaging strategy as it tries to move past Schnatter, who continues to try and wrest back more control over the company after an ousting.
"We are not dependent, nor should we be, on one person," Papa John's CEO Steve Ritchie said on a contentious second-quarter earnings call earlier this month. The company's same-store sales in North America dipped 10.5% in July and fell 6.1% for Q2 overall, according to Ad Age.
A large part of Papa John's turnaround will be dependent on its marketing strategy. In July, following the initial Forbes reports detailing Schnatter's racist comments and a broader toxic culture at the company, Papa John's said it would remove the founder from all marketing and branding materials. Earlier this month, Papa John's named Endeavor Global Marketing as its new agency of record. The shop's CMO Bozoma Saint John, formerly marketing chief of Uber, told Adweek that Endeavor's work with Papa John's would be less focused on an apology tour and would be more centered on providing "cultural help" internally and producing "deeply moving" marketing campaigns for consumers.
MLB teams again working with Papa John's also come as the brand has been losing important sports deals elsewhere. The pizza maker ended its partnership with the NFL in March, with rival Pizza Hut stepping in to fill the role as official sponsor of the football league. Schnatter late last year pinned the brand's poor performance on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem at games as a form of protest against police brutality — comments that eventually led him to step down as CEO.