Sales at Papa John's pizza are soaring thanks to one particular type of partnership

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Sales at Papa John's are soaring, in part thanks to the pizza chain's sports partnerships.

Papa John's reported last Wednesday that same-store sales increased 4.8% in the second quarter, in part thanks to the company's partnership with Major League Baseball. The pizza chain touted the success of the recent featured promotion, Papa Slam, that allows all American customers to get pizza at 40% off when any MLB player hits a grand slam.

The chain additionally announced it had recently signed a multi-year partnership with the NFL and the Super Bowl, meaning Papa John's will continue to use NFL logos and trademarks in marketing campaigns — including the key phrase the official pizza sponsor of the NFL.

Papa John's sports partnerships are nothing new. The company is the official sponsor of more than 350 professional and collegiate sports teams, allowing the pizza chain to create local deals and market to specific communities of fans.

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"Watching sports is all about sharing an experience. Pizza, too, is meant to be a shared experience," Robert Thompson, senior vice president of marketing at Papa John's, told Business Insider. "We noticed that connection a long time ago as we began to grow and elevate our marketing efforts both locally and nationally."

The company began its partnership with the NFL in 2010. Today, the company has "Preferred Pizza" partnerships with 23 NFL teams.

"Our partnership with the NFL, in particular, has been exceptional," says Thompson. "One of the reasons the NFL is such a strong marketing opportunity is because of the number of people that watch the games live whether it be at home or in the stadium."

RELATED: 10 money-saving fast-food hacks

10 money-saving fast-food hacks
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10 money-saving fast-food hacks

Restaurant: McDonald’s

Hack: Order two four-piece nuggets instead of one six-piece. It’s cheaper, you get more nuggets and you get more sauces. Score.

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Restaurant: McDonald’s

Hack: Order a McDouble without the ketchup and mustard but with lettuce and Big Mac sauce. You'll pay for the Big Mac taste for the price of a McDouble.

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Restaurant: Chipotle

Hack: Order half of one protein and half of another kind (like chicken and steak). You’ll almost always get more than half of each and end up with up to 1.5x the protein in your burrito or bowl for the price of a normal portion.

Photo credit: Getty

Restaurant: Arby’s

Hack: Order two junior roast beef sandwiches instead of one regular classic. You'll end up with more meat for a lower price.

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Restaurant: Jamba Juice

Hack: Substitute any ingredient in any smoothie for the same price. If you’re craving a smoothie with non-fat yogurt instead of mango, or extra strawberries instead of blueberries, customize it to your liking without any extra charge. It will save you more than being charged for creating your own smoothie from scratch.

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Restaurant: Jack in the Box

Hack: Order two Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers and combine them into one for a much cheaper version of a Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger. 

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Restaurant: McDonald’s

Hack: Order a sausage McMuffin off of the dollar menu but ask for the sausage to be substituted with egg—an egg McMuffin for a dollar.

Photo credit: Getty

Restaurant: Any pizza place

Hack: When you call to order delivery, ask if there were any orders that weren’t delivered—the pizza place will often give you those orders for a discounted price (perfect if cold pizza is your thing.)

Photo credit: Getty

Restaurant: Subway

Hack: Order a Double Steak and Cheese Sub instead of the Philly Cheese Steak Sub—you’ll get the same sandwich at a normal foot-long price.

Photo credit: Getty


A key part of Costco's athletic partnership has been through individual athletes. In 2011, Papa John's hired Peyton Manning as a spokesperson, and in 2015, J.J. Watts followed suit.

"We'll never replace Peyton Manning because Peyton Manning is not replaceable," Papa John CEO and founder John Schnatter said in a call with analysts on Wednesday. "We have no idea or desire to ever replace Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning is the Michael Jordan of football. Period. End of conversation."

Now, Papa John's is looking for new ways to expand its sports-centric marketing.

In 2015, the company sponsored its first Papa John's Youth Baseball Invitational in Hialeah, Florida, focusing on inner-city kids. The same year, Papa John's threw a stadium-wide pizza party for Clemson University's football team to celebrate an undefeated regular season.

It's hard to measure exactly how much these partnerships impact business at the pizza chain. For one, Papa John's has been the most-recognized brands by avid NFL fans for the last four years, according to Turkey Intelligence data. And, Papa John's has found another interesting way to quantify success.

"From our perspective, our sports marketing efforts are having a positive impact on business, especially when you consider we've inspired several former professional athletes, like Peyton Manning and Jerome Bettis, to invest in their own Papa John's franchises," says Thompson.

Papa John's is doing everything it can to distinguish itself in the pizza industry. The company has made a business of paying attention to details, making changes to make ordering just a second quicker or a slight degree more convenient. When it comes to sports, with 350 partnerships and growing, it comes as no surprise that the pizza chain is trying to be just as comprehensive, from youth baseball to the MBA.

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