Shortly after Papa John’s cut ties with the NFL, Pizza Hut stepped in. The YUM! Brands chain announced February 28—the day after Papa John’s reported its fourth-quarter earnings and widely revealed the split—that it was now the official sponsor of the league, and its campaign would begin with the 2018 NFL Draft.
That time has arrived.
Plano, Texas-based Pizza Hut, unveiled its activation plan for the event Monday, set to begin Thursday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“The NFL Draft is a moment of hope and anticipation for players and fans alike, and our mission at Pizza Hut during the Draft is to help fans celebrate the start,” said Zipporah Allen, chief marketing officer, Pizza Hut, U.S., in a statement. “From inviting fans to show off their best doorbell dance for a chance to win some great prizes to recognizing the Pi Pick draftee, we want Pizza Hut to help feed the passion and excitement fans have for their teams.”
Here’s what’s in store:
No. 1, the company is enlisting Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Juju Smith-Schuster as ambassador of the Pizza Hut “Doorbell Dance” campaign. The second-year player will also appear as a social media correspondent on the Red Carpet, marking the first time a brand has ever had a spokesperson positioned there, Pizza Hut said.
The “Doorbell Dance” campaign involves Smith-Schuster celebrating when the doorbell rings (for the arrival of Pizza Hut). Fans will be asked to submit doorbell dances for a chance to win a trip to an NFL regular season game of their picking. They can submit via Instagram April 26–28 by tagging @PizaHut, #PizzHutHut, and #sweepstakes.
Additionally, Smith-Schuster will recognize the 78th pick in the NFL Draft, or the 14th pick in the third round (3.14 aka Pi Pick), with free pizza for a year and an invitation to a pizza party in his honor in the new city that selects him. This “Pi Pick” will receive retro brand swag, gift cards for teammates, and more.
On the culinary side, Pizza Hut is offering a special “NFL Draft Box” promotion featuring two medium pizzas, wings, and breadsticks starting at $19.99 throughout the NFL Draft (April 26–April 28). At the draft itself, Pizza Hut will have a visible presence. Guests can record their doorbell dance moves in a 360-degree camera, compete in a delivery shuttle obstacle course, spend time in the Pizza Hut lounge, and sample free pizza.
“One of the things we love about Pizza Hut is that as a new partner, they are committed to bringing even more excitement and entertainment to the NFL Draft, one of the marquee events on the NFL calendar,” Renie Anderson, senior vice president, NFL Partnerships, Sponsorship and Consumer Products, said in a statement."Pizza Hut wants to leverage the Draft as a national platform to bring more value to the home watching experience, and we are thrilled to see them activating in new and unique ways.”
Pizza Hut inked a multi-year deal with the NFL that allows a vast array of exclusive marketing rights, benefits, and designations. The Pizza Hut partnership with the NFL includes collective use of all 32 team marks and involves the NFL working closely with Pizza Hut to facilitate local, exclusive team partnerships. Pizza Hut has the opportunity to leverage game tickets and unique fan experiences to all NFL games in marketing and promotional campaigns throughout each year.
Papa John’s sponsorship with the NFL came to a somewhat rocky end. The company said the parties mutually agreed to end Papa John’s official sponsorship, and that it would instead refocus its marketing efforts into the 22 NFL teams Papa John’s remains a sponsor of.
CEO Steve Ritchie said Papa John’s evaluation of the future “drove us to look at diversification of our marketing mix and the allocations of our spend.”
But some pointed to the controversy brought on by founder John Schnatter in December as a turning point. Schnatter took heat for comments made about the NFL’s handling of national anthem protests in December, saying: “The NFL has hurt us. And more importantly, by not resolving the current debacle to the player and owners' satisfaction, NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders.”
Soon after, Schnatter stepped into a chairman role and Ritchie, a longtime employee who started with the company in 1996 as a customer service representative making $6 per hour, took over. Ritchie was added to the company’s succession plan in 2015 when he was named president.
In February, Pizza Hut U.S. president Artie Starrs said: “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. “NFL stadiums are packed every week but tens of millions of fans are also watching the game at home. 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. The capacity for what’s possible is endless and that’s going to make this league partnership great fun for Pizza Hut, the NFL and everyone who loves pizza and football.”
Pizza Hut’s same-store sales lifted 1 percent in the fourth quarter and were flat for the year. U.S. comps hiked 2 percent in Q4. Pizza Hut had posted five consecutive quarters of declining sales before turning positive in the third quarter, showing that the company’s $130 million revitalization plan is working. This includes 145,000 new pouches made with 3M Thinsulate Insulation thermal technology designed to deliver pizza 15 degrees hotter, and the hiring of 14,000 additional; delivery drivers in 2017 and there are now more than 24,000 new car toppers on the road.
Pizza Hut opened 340 new international restaurants in Q4 and 826 units in 77 countries, including 592 restaurants in emerging markets.