Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - Papa John's became the “official pizza sponsor” of the NFL and the Super Bowl, the biggest pizza sales event of the year, seven years ago, but it seems the company won't even be buying an advertising slot this year.
"We currently do not have a Super Bowl spot booked or produced, but are exploring our options in and around the game,” Brandon Rhoten, Chief Marketing Officer for Papa John's, said in an interview with the Courier-Journal.
Representatives for the Louisville-based company, which replaced founder John Schnatter as CEO in late December, said if there is an ad, they aren't sure what that ad will look like—meaning, they don't know if Schnatter will be featured in it.
Schnatter has appeared in most of the chain's television ads for the last several years. Rhoten said Schnatter is still integral to the company's story, but “the brand has some room for flexibility.”
This comes just one year after the company announced in a letter to shareholders that the Super Bowl ad would act as a stage to “unveil” the “Pizza Family” brand campaign, a campaign that focuses on the people and history of the company.
According to reports, Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year for pizza sales, with customers buying millions of dollars' worth each year. Forbes estimates 12.5 million pizzas will be purchased on Super Bowl Sunday, and the average order will be valued at just under $27.
This juggernaut of an advertising opportunity comes at a price; Business Insider reported that a 30-second Super Bowl ad this year will cost companies $5 million—a whopping $166,667 per second.
If Papa John's decides to purchase an ad at the last minute, there's good news: space likely won't be sold out. Advertising slots for the Super Bowl have become increasingly harder to sell. Fortune reported that, going into the Super Bowl in 2017, only 90% of ads had been sold. This compares to previous years when 90% would be sold as early as five months prior.
This won't be the first time the company pulled off a Hail Mary for their Super Bowl ad, either; Rhoten said he didn't buy the 2017 Super Bowl spot until the Monday before the game.
The company's apparent media hesitation comes just months after Schnatter blamed a dip in pizza sales on the NFL protests. Forbes reported the then-CEO losing $70 million of net-worth in mere hours.
Rhoten told Ad Age, an advertising trade publication, that the company has been distancing itself by removing NFL imagery and "official sponsor" wording from ads. He also said the company is evaluating whether to continue as the official pizza sponsor of the NFL and the Super Bowl, an endorsement the company was touting in its 2016 Annual Report.
READ MORE: Papa John's walks back NFL protest comments