Pizza Hut and Papa John's have been longtime competitors, but their rivalry intensified late a year ago after Greg Creed, CEO of Pizza Hut's parent company Yum Brands, shaded Schnatter for his comments suggesting the player protests were to blame for his subpar pizza sales. He received much backlash and had to apologize.
Ritchie, who became CEO on January 1 after Schnatter left that role, added that the chain expects to see "marked improvements in sales later in 2018".
Papa John's said in a press release that its fourth-quarter sales had declined by almost 4% in 2017, relative to the same time period one year earlier.
"Pizza Hut has a history of bringing more entertaining food and experiences to the pizza occasion and we plan to continue that through our exclusive partnership with the National Football League", said Artie Starrs, President, Pizza Hut U.S. The NFL will get more exposure from the new tie-up, as Pizza Hut has more than double the number of outlets, with more than 7,500 locations. The sponsorship is set to begin with the 2018 NFL Draft, which will take place near Pizza Hut's headquarters in Dallas, Texas.
The agreement comes one day after officials at Papa John's announced the company and National Football League had mutually agreed to part ways in their sponsorship agreement.
"While I'm not pleased with the company's most recent performance, I am confident that our brand and our people provide the foundation we need to reignite customer enthusiasm for Papa John's", Ritchie said Tuesday. Sales, and stock prices fell, according to Associated Press.
Executives said that "negative consumer sentiment" contributed to the sales slump.
The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the anthem in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality. Pizza Hut's contract will be pushed through at least the 2021 campaign and possibly further depending on how the partnership transpires over the next few years.
Since the beginning of the year, Pizza Hut has been been aggressively discounting its pizzas, rolling out contests and offering new rewards in an effort to gain market share from competitors.
Papa John's will continue to frame this as a decision made to pull back on their marketing budget while the company isn't doing well.