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Pizza Hut picks up official NFL sponsorship

Pizza Hut picks up official NFL sponsorship

Deal follows competitor Papa John’s termination of partnership

Pizza Hut is the new “Official Pizza Sponsor” of the National Football League, according to a press release Wednesday, only a day after competitor Papa John’s International Inc. terminated its eight-year deal with the league.

Pizza Hut, a division of Yum! Brands Inc., said the multi-year NFL partnership will launch on April 26, during the 2018 NFL Draft at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“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 NFL,” said Artie Starrs, president of Plano, Texas-based Pizza Hut U.S., in a statement.

Pizza Hut’s deal with the NFL includes collective use of all 32 team marks, and the league will work with Pizza Hut on exclusive team partnerships.

“Pizza Hut will have the opportunity to leverage game tickets and unique fan experiences to all NFL games in marketing and promotional campaigns throughout each year,” the company said.

Louisville, Ky.-based Papa John’s said Tuesday that it had terminated its official NFL sponsorship, which had been in place since 2010. The announcement came after Papa John’s founder John Schnatter in November blamed the chain’s sales declines on NFL players’ on-field protests.

Steve Ritchie, who succeeded Schnatter as Papa John’s CEO amid the controversy, said the 5,199-unit chain would continue its partnership with 22 specific football teams, as well as popular personalities within the league.

Starrs of Pizza Hut U.S. said its NFL deal would provide a large audience for the brand.

“NFL stadiums are packed every week, but tens of millions of fans are also watching the game at home,” he said. “We have an unmatched ability to bring those fans closer to the sport thanks to the power of our 7,500 restaurants and 150,000 football-crazed team members.”

Jonathan Jensen, an associate professor in sports marketing at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, said Pizza Hut's existing sponsorship with the National Collegiate Athletic Association gives the brand expertise in sports marketing.

“Research has demonstrated that the longer a sponsorship continues the better that recall and recognition is among consumers for the relationship between the sport property and the brand,” Jensen said in answers to emailed questions. “However, Papa John's struggled a bit out of the gates with this being their first national sponsorship, and I don't think they leveraged it as well as other sponsors.”

Pizza Hut partnered as the official pizza brand with the NCAA in 2016, and it has produced tie-ins like the limited-edition high-top sneakers, also known as Pie Tops, that could order pies during March Madness in 2017.

“Pizza Hut has deep institutional knowledge having been a NCAA corporate sponsor for a few years now and has experience leveraging a property like the NFL, so I would predict that it will take them less time to get up to speed,” Jensen said. “Plus, they have experience with creative promotions (such as Pie Tops) that help break through the clutter.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that, “with a focus on family, friends and fun, 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.”

Pizza Hut, founded in 1958, has more than 7,500 restaurants in the U.S. and 16,700 units worldwide in more than 100 countries.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Update Feb. 28, 2018: This story has been edited to include comments from a sports-marketing expert.

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