Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 1
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Papa John’s quickly becomes an NFL big daddy

Better ingredients, better pizza, best score — among avid fans, at least.

Papa John’s, an NFL corporate sponsor for less than three years, has dethroned Gatorade, a league sponsor since 1983, as the brand most identified by avid NFL fans as an NFL sponsor, according to the results of the seventh annual NFL sponsor awareness survey conducted by Turnkey Intelligence for SportsBusiness Journal/Daily. Gatorade had held the top spot for all six years previously.

Papa John’s founder John Schnatter (center) touted a Super Bowl promotion with Jim Nantz (left) and Peyton Manning.
More than 62 percent of avid fans correctly identified Papa John’s as the NFL’s official pizza. When combining the results of all 402 fans surveyed (both avid and casual fans), the pizza maker saw a year-over-year increase of 13 percentage points in its overall awareness level, the biggest change among the 68 brands measured in the survey’s 10 categories.

Papa John’s tested the NFL sponsorship waters in January 2010 with a short-term deal making it the official pizza sponsor of Super Bowl XLIV. It signed a full, multiyear deal a few months later.

Its activation efforts this past season featured newly signed Denver quarterback Peyton Manning (see below).

In displacing Gatorade, Papa John’s overcame both a long-term incumbency by the Pepsi isotonic and Gatorade’s powerful NFL sideline branding.

“Over the past three years, we have pushed to ensure that all of our NFL assets drove long-term brand equity and short-term sales,’’ said Papa John’s CMO Andrew Varga.

Varga said the company’s ongoing brand-tracking survey marks in key ratings, including awareness, customer satisfaction and overall brand impression, are at or near all-time highs. As for sales? “We’re coming off two of our best back-to-back years ever, and Super Bowl day is our No. 1 sales day every year,” he said. “[The NFL deal] has more than exceeded our expectations.”

Gatorade did retain its No. 1 spot in the survey among all NFL fans, fueled by a strong response rate from casual fans. Its awareness score among avid and casual fans together was 57 percent, compared with 53 percent for Papa John’s. But that gap has narrowed over the past two years. The rates in 2012 were 57 percent for Gatorade and 40 percent for Papa John’s, and 62 percent and 33 percent, respectively, in 2011.

Gatorade’s overall NFL mark also maintains its standing as one of the most recognized brand-property relationships in sports, considering similar studies conducted of MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, MLS and PGA Tour fans. Only Goodyear’s NASCAR partnership (recognized by 67 percent of fans) fared better in the most recent round of annual surveys.

Anheuser-Busch (Bud Light), in its second season back as an NFL sponsor, saw its overall recognition rate increase by 6 percentage points compared with its 2012 mark, trailing only Papa John’s for largest increase among league sponsors.

Thirty-two Bud Light customers and their guests won a VIP experience at the NFL draft in April, a promotion that garnered 114 million media impressions, according to A-B’s internal research, thanks in part to an ESPN co-produced spot with NFL host Trey Wingo. Throughout the season, its well-received “Superstitious” ad campaign, created by Translation USA, featured fans’ game-day habits with Stevie Wonder’s song of the same title in the background.

Bud Light also engaged fans via sponsorships with 28 of the league’s teams, largely through its Tickets for Life promotion nationwide at retail and on Facebook that gave fans the chance to win 50 years of season tickets to watch their favorite team.

At the conclusion of the season, A-B claimed a 23 percent market share of adult beer drinkers ages 21-34 (its primary NFL demographic), an increase of 1 percentage point over the previous year.

Pepsi has seen its awareness levels among casual fans rise for four straight seasons and has seen its mind share increase by 8 percentage points among all fans surveyed over that span. Rival Coca-Cola, meanwhile, has seen a drop of 15 percentage points during the same time period.

Pepsi, the league’s official soda since 2002, this season merged music and sports to create the Pepsi NFL Anthems program. Seven artists produced original songs inspired by their favorite NFL teams. The effort generated more than 1.8 million song downloads and online streams via co-branded pages on and The initiative also included custom 16-ounce cans and retail displays in select NFL markets.

Additionally, last month’s Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans marked the first year of Pepsi’s multiyear Super Bowl Halftime Show sponsorship. Pepsi received 250 million media impressions, according to Pepsi internal research, when it announced the deal in July on digital billboards in Times Square. Then, during the New Year’s Eve Times Square celebration, Pepsi used the same strategy to invite fans to submit photos of themselves if they wanted to be entered into a selection process to become one of 100 backup dancers during Beyoncé’s halftime performance, or to be part of the first social introduction to the halftime show featuring crowdsourced images in a televised video welcoming Beyoncé to the stage. Pepsi received more than 120,000 submissions from consumers.

Among other key findings:

McDonald’s had its best showing in the study, with an overall awareness level of 15 percent. However, the company was the only official partner to be trumped by a competitor. Subway, which has never been a league partner, also enjoyed its highest recognition level ever, at 21 percent.

Visa’s NFL awareness among casual fans hit its highest level. The 11 percentage-point surge within that fan base was second only to the 13 percentage-point increase seen by Papa John’s.

FedEx’s recognition among casual fans was at its highest level since the shipping category was first tracked in 2009.

Staff writer Terry Lefton contributed to this report.


For this project, Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of more than 400 members of the Toluna online panel who were at least 18 years old.

The 2013 survey was conducted Jan. 16-21, a period that coincided with the AFC/NFC championship games and is comparable to the time periods for the 2012 and 2011 surveys.

Respondents were screened and analyzed based on their general avidity levels.

Fans categorized as “avid” were those who responded “4” or “5” to the question “How big a fan are you of the NFL?”, claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a week or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 10 games per season,” and “have a favorite team.” Fans categorized as “casual” responded “3” to the same initial question, then claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a month or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 3 games per season,” and “have a favorite team.”

When asked to identify official sponsors, respondents selected from a field of companies and brands that was provided to them for each business sector. Only the top-scoring companies and brands are listed in the results published here. The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 4.9 percentage points.

Turnkey Intelligence performs research work for more than 70 North American major league teams, league offices and brands. The NFL and several of its teams are among the company’s clients.


Subject: How much more likely are fans to consider purchasing/using an NFL sponsor’s product/service if they are aware of the relationship?

To read: 25 percent of NFL fans said they would be more likely to consider using a hotel that is the league’s official hotel sponsor if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate increased to 46 percent when considering only those fans who correctly knew that Marriott is the NFL’s official hotel.

Category (NFL SPONSOR) Among All NFL Fans   Among NFL Fans Who Correctly Identified Sponsor   Difference
Hotel (Marriott) 25%   46%   +21 percentage points
Wireless service provider (Verizon) 26%   40%   +14
Soft drink (Pepsi) 32%   45%   +13
Quick-service restaurant (McDonald’s) 28%   37%   +9
Automotive (General Motors) 24%   33%   +9
Credit card (Visa) 25%   33%   +8
Shipping services (FedEx) 25%   32%   +7
Beer (Anheuser-Busch) 27%   33%   +6
Pizza (Papa John’s) 32%   37%   +5
Sports/energy drink (Gatorade) 32%   36%   +4

* If a fan selected either Travelers or Aflac, that fan became part of the second grouping in this survey question.

Subject: What brands do fans think should be NFL sponsors?

To read: 48 percent of NFL fans said they think Anheuser-Busch should be an NFL sponsor, compared with 27 percent who think MillerCoors should have a league deal. Those numbers became 69 percent and 25 percent, respectively, when considering only those NFL fans who correctly knew that Anheuser-Busch is the league’s official beer sponsor.

  Among all NFL fans   Among NFL Fans Who Correctly Identified Sponsor
NFL Tour Sponsor/Competitor Response Rates Difference   Response Rates Difference
Anheuser-Busch/MillerCoors 48% / 27% +21 percentage points   69% / 25% +44
Gatorade/Powerade 57% / 27% +30   72% / 29% +43
Papa John’s/Domino’s 46% / 24% +22   60% / 23% +37
Visa/MasterCard 49% / 30% +19   62% / 28% +34
Verizon/AT&T 40% / 34% +6   54% / 24% +30
Marriott/Hilton 30% / 24% +6   54% / 26% +28
FedEx/UPS 36% / 33% +3   48% / 28% +20
McDonald’s/Subway 39% / 48% -9   63% / 46% +17
GM/Ford 33% / 37% -4   50% / 36% +14
Pepsi/Coca-Cola 43% / 51% -8   60% / 50% +10

Notes: Fans could select both the official sponsor and the competitor if they chose to do so. The one specific competing company listed was selected by Turnkey for consideration in the survey file.

Which of the following is an official sponsor of NFL?

  Avid   Casual
SPORTS/ENERGY DRINK 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Gatorade* 58.2% 60.1% 66.2%   55.2% 53.3% 57.4%
Red Bull 6.5% 1.0% 1.5%   6.0% 1.0% 2.5%
Powerade 5.0% 4.9% 3.0%   2.5% 4.6% 4.6%
I’m not sure 28.9% 31.0% 28.3%   33.8% 37.6% 31.5%

For the seventh consecutive year, Gatorade scored the highest overall awareness mark of any league sponsor among NFL fans, though Papa John’s did pass it for No. 1 overall among avid fans. The PepsiCo brand released limited-edition 32-ounce bottles nationwide, featuring team colors and touting the Gatorade/ NFL “Everything to Prove” program. That program tracked 11 rookies from the February scouting combine through the season, with episodes airing on and

  Avid   Casual
PIZZA 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Papa John’s* 62.2% 49.3% 33.8%   44.3% 31.0% 31.5%
Pizza Hut 7.0% 10.8% 13.1%   15.4% 13.7% 12.7%
Domino’s 6.5% 7.9% 8.6%   5.0% 7.6% 7.6%
I’m not sure 21.9% 28.1% 42.9%   32.8% 43.7% 43.2%

Papa John’s featured Denver’s Peyton Manning and company CEO John Schnatter throughout the season in a series of commercials promoting the Papa John’s/NFL connection. In October, Manning became a franchise owner as well when he purchased 21 Denver-area Papa John’s stores. Additionally, the Papa John’s Super Bowl XLVII Coin Toss Experience gave fans a chance to vote “heads” or “tails” at and via the brand’s Facebook page. Those who correctly called the coin toss received a free large one-topping pizza.

  Avid   Casual
BEER 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Anheuser-Busch* 51.2% 45.8% 43.9%   41.3% 34.5% 39.1%
Coors 13.4% 20.2% 23.7%   12.4% 12.7% 16.8%
Miller 13.4% 12.8% 8.6%   8.5% 13.7% 10.2%
I’m not sure 19.4% 16.8% 21.7%   33.3% 34.0% 32.0%

Bud Light’s activation with the NFL in 2012 ran from the draft till the Super Bowl. The Anheuser-Busch brand was a presenting sponsor of ESPN’s draft coverage in April and presenting sponsor of the weeklong NFL Kickoff leading up to the Dallas-N.Y. Giants Thursday night season opener. There were, on average, two ads for Bud Light in every NFL game broadcast across all five league network partners during the season, and as the exclusive alcohol advertiser of Super Bowl XLVII, A-B aired 4 1/2 minutes of ads during the game. The season culminated when A-B transformed the 200-room Wyndham Riverfront New Orleans hotel into the Bud Light Hotel and hosted four nights of parties and concerts during Super Bowl Week, all streamed live online.

  Avid   Casual
Credi t Card 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011

Visa* 44.3% 45.3% 36.4%   42.3% 31.5% 30.5%
American Express 10.4% 5.9% 9.1%   9.5% 7.6% 12.7%
MasterCard 9.5% 10.3% 8.6%   4.0% 8.6% 10.2%
Discover 3.0% 5.9% 3.0%   3.0% 4.6% 3.1%
I’m not sure 32.8% 32.0% 42.9%   40.8% 47.7% 43.2%

When Visa cardholders used their card during the regular season, they automatically were entered for a chance to go to Super Bowl XLVII, the 2013 NFL draft, the 2013 NFL Kickoff celebration and the 2013 International Series games in London. Visa’s NFL efforts generated nearly 45 million impressions across traditional and social media during the regular season, according to internal company research provided by Sysomos, with the brand also among NFL sponsors netting 39 percent of the total social media mentions. Visa additionally had player marketing deals with Baltimore’s Ray Lewis and San Francisco’s Alex Smith.

  Avid   Casual
SHIPPING SERVICE 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
FedEx* 43.3% 41.4% 32.3%   36.8% 31.5% 27.9%
UPS 14.4% 17.7% 13.6%   14.9% 11.2% 18.8%
I’m not sure 35.8% 38.4% 49.0%   43.3% 48.7% 46.2%

FedEx was correctly identified by 40 percent of all fans as a league sponsor, the brand’s highest level since 2009. Throughout the season, members of the FedEx Office Rewards program had the opportunity to bid on various online auctions that included autographed NFL memorabilia, a tour and luncheon at the New York Jets’ training facility, a breakfast package with Pittsburgh Steelers executives, and Super Bowl XLVII tickets. Members also could enter the FedEx Game Time Super Bowl Sweepstakes for a chance to win trips to the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl. Naming rights for the Washington Redskins’ stadium brought additional visibility nationally, as Robert Griffin III and the Redskins hosted both a late-season Sunday night game and a wild-card playoff game.

  Avid   Casual
SOFT DRINK 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Pepsi* 36.3% 37.4% 45.5%   32.8% 31.5% 29.4%
Coca-Cola 23.9% 23.7% 19.2%   20.9% 17.8% 23.9%
I’m not sure 28.9% 30.5% 28.3%   40.3% 45.2% 35.5%

Pepsi entered the 2012 season at the start of a 10-year renewal with the league. The brand, which shifted most of its NFL marketing back to the namesake Pepsi brand after highlighting Pepsi Max for the two prior seasons, had an estimated 23,000 NFL-branded store displays nationwide during the season. It drew heavily throughout 2012 on both its Pepsi NFL Anthems effort and its title sponsorship of the Super Bowl halftime performance, a sponsorship it hadn’t held since 2007 (see story, Page 14).

  Avid   Casual
WIRELESS SERVICE 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Verizon* 34.8% 33.0% 24.8%   24.9% 26.9% 19.8%
AT&T 10.4% 14.3% 7.6%   12.9% 7.6% 10.7%
Sprint 9.0% 4.4% 10.6%   7.0% 10.7% 14.2%
I’m not sure 38.8% 40.4% 49.5%   48.3% 49.8% 48.2%

Verizon this year received its highest recognition score among avid fans in survey history. Following a debut effort for the 2012 Super Bowl, Verizon this past season enabled fans to stream live online and through the NFL Mobile by Verizon app both of the Saturday games of wild-card weekend, as well as the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl. Verizon additionally teamed with the Detroit Lions during the season to make Ford Field the ninth NFL venue to offer a free Wi-Fi network.

  Avid   Casual
AUTOMOTIVE 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
General Motors* 21.4% 22.2% 21.7%   23.4% 19.8% 21.8%
Ford 18.4% 16.8% 18.2%   13.4% 12.7% 8.1%
Chrysler 5.5% 5.9% 1.5%   7.0% 3.6% 6.1%
Toyota 5.0% 11.3% 5.6%   3.0% 5.6% 6.1%
I’m not sure 46.8% 41.9% 52.0%   51.2% 54.8% 55.8%

General Motors’ GMC brand started the season with a return of its “Never Say Never” campaign and an NFL Kickoff event in Times Square with 33 Sierra pickup trucks placed in an outdoor showroom. At the event, fans could interact virtually with ESPN’s Mike Tirico through an on-site kiosk. On the team level, just before the start of training camp, Buick/GMC signed deals with Denver and Carolina, the first such deals for that GMC brand. The deal in Denver provided for a Buick logo patch on the Broncos’ practice jerseys.

  Avid   Casual
HOTEL 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Marriott* 18.4% 13.3% 9.6%   16.4% 10.7% 11.2%
Holiday Inn 5.0% 6.9% 7.1%   4.0% 5.6% 9.6%
Hilton 3.0% 7.4% 5.1%   5.0% 3.6% 5.1%
I’m not sure 67.2% 64.5% 74.2%   67.7% 70.6% 68.0%

Marriott in August launched its Greatness on the Road player of the week program. The effort was supported with ad buys on NFL Network’s Thursday night games through the season. Each week, one player and one participating Marriott guest were named a winner, with those customers getting frequency/loyalty points and an appearance on Courtyard by Marriott’s Facebook page. Those fans also were entered into a seasonending contest, with one winner getting a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. The hotel ran additional sweepstakes on its Facebook page offering trips and tickets to a team’s 2013 regular-season road games and a Courtyard NFL Fan Package for weekends during the season.

  Avid   Casual
QUICK-SERVICE RESTAURANT 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Subway 25.4% 16.8% 22.2%   17.4% 10.7% 9.1%
McDonald’s* 12.9% 11.8% 10.1%   16.4% 10.7% 11.7%
KFC 6.0% 2.0% 4.0%   4.5% 4.1% 6.1%
Taco Bell 2.0% 3.0% 5.6%   5.5% 2.5% 7.1%
I’m not sure 46.8% 46.3% 47.5%   52.2% 43.7% 54.8%

McDonald’s in November signed a multiyear deal to become the NFL’s official restaurant, the first time since the 2007 season the league has had an official QSR. McDonald’s also is the presenting sponsor of the Pro Bowl, a game it first sponsored with a short-term deal in 2010. Followers of the McDonald’s Twitter feed were eligible to win a pair of tickets to the Pro Bowl through the McDonald’s Pro Bowl Pass Sweepstakes. Subway, however, still leads among fan recognition in this category, seeing a significant jump among both avid and casual NFL fans. The ubiquitous sports advertiser added to its roster of NFL endorsers by signing Heisman Trophy-winning Redskins quarterback RGIII in 2012.

* Official NFL sponsor