The pizza chain announced its NFL sponsorship earlier this year, just one day after Papa John's ended its longtime partnership with the league following months of controversy related to players' protests.
"If you look at how we're approaching our partnership with the NFL, it's very different from how our previous sponsor approached it," Marianne Radley, Pizza Hut's chief brand officer, told Business Insider.
Pizza Hut is emphasizing fans over the league itself — and avoiding controversy at all costs.
On Tuesday, Pizza Hut debuted its marketing campaign for the upcoming NFL season. In February, Pizza Hut announced it had signed a multiyear agreement to be the NFL's official pizza sponsor, one day after Papa John's said it had ended its NFL sponsorship deal.
"The NFL has the ability like no other league in the world to inspire, excite, and unite people who otherwise may have nothing in common," Marianne Radley, Pizza Hut's chief brand officer, told Business Insider. "They have over 70 billion fans in the US."
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Pizza Hut's game plan involves a new NFL-centric rewards program and themed pizza boxes. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster are starring in Pizza Hut's first national NFL television campaign.
The plan does not, however, involve engaging in controversy at all. Unlike Nike, which inspired both celebration and controversy when it debuted an ad starring Colin Kaepernick on Monday, Pizza Hut is doing whatever it can to avoid discussion of players' kneeling during the national anthem to protest against police brutality.
"If you look at how we're approaching our partnership with the NFL, it's very different from how our previous sponsor approached it," Radley said. "It's all about the fans. We're doing as much as we can to enhance that fan experience."
Papa John's sparked backlash when founder and then-CEO John Schnatter (who has since been ousted from Papa John's after using the N-word in a company conference call) criticized the league's treatment of protests, with the company ending its longtime sponsorship months later. Radley said that Pizza Hut plans to avoid engaging in such controversy by focusing "on the fans."
Radley also said that Pizza Hut isn't concerned about declining NFL viewership.
"I know that they've been down the past few years, but if you look at NFL games, they continue to be the highest-rated programming in television today," Radley said. "And, there's nothing that's suggesting that's going to change."
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