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Papa John's sales are up for grabs, Domino's emerges as early winner

Category: Finance,Retail

As for Pizza Hut, all eyes are on its partnership with the National Football League.

Last November, Papa John's founder and then-CEO Schnatter blamed the NFL for the company's poor performance, saying the league had not resolved an ongoing controversy over players kneeling in protest during the National Anthem, and TV ratings slumped as a result. At the time, Papa John's was the league's official pizza sponsor.

Papa John's and the NFL mutually agreed to terminate the partnership just a year after the pizza chain renewed its agreement with the league. Papa John's had been the official pizza of the NFL since 2010 and still maintains partnerships with 22 specific NFL teams.

NFL players resumed their protest during several preseason games Thursday, kneeling and raising their fists in objection of police brutality in the United States. With the controversy showing no signs of stopping, it will be interesting to watch how much of a boost Pizza Hut receives from the deal it struck.

Pizza Hut scooped up the official pizza sponsorship in February and has been taking full advantage of it ever since. In April, Pizza Hut offered a number of discounts and deals to consumers to celebrate the annual NFL Draft. It even sponsored a "doorbell dance" competition and gave rookie player Malik Jefferson free pizza for a year because he was the "Pi Pick" of the draft — the 14th player selected in the third round, or 3.14, the number for pi.

In addition, as part of its sponsorship deal, Pizza Hut can create local deals with the teams, including fan experiences and game tickets. Pizza Hut may also use all 32 of the team logos in its marketing.

Getting a boost from the NFL is critical for Pizza Hut. The pizza chain has been the slowest sales grower of Yum Brands trinity of fast food chains.

Pizza Hut had gained a reputation for low quality food, limited technological advancements and, thus, wallowed in the shadow of rival Domino's, which has become a dominant force in the pizza market.

Since the beginning of the year, Pizza Hut has been aggressively discounting its pizzas, rolling out contests and offering new rewards in an effort to gain market share from competitors. However, even a $130 million investment in equipment upgrades and marketing from its parent company wasn't enough to make a meaningful impact on sales.

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