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Blue Jackets Blow a PR Opportunity

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They haven’t done anything wrong, but they missed a chance to look good

“You sure about that?”

This week, Papa John’s founder and namesake John Schnatter resigned as chairman of the board after using a racial slur. This comes on the heels of the NFL parting ways with the company as their official sponsor earlier this year following critical comments made by Schnatter.

Why am I talking about this on a hockey blog? Why does it matter, even if we do love pizza in the morning, pizza every day, pizza in the evening, pizza any way? Pizza, pepperoni, mozarella, and anchovies...OK NO PD WHAT ARE YOU DOING STOP IT STOP THAT RIGHT NOW

Anyway, what is relevant is that in the wake of the news of his racist comments, many professional sports teams have dropped their sponsorships with the company:

Notably, one of the few teams to announce a continuation of the partnership is our very own Columbus Blue Jackets:

Captain Nick Foligno - whose charity has its own partnership with the local franchisees, expressed sadness in the comments, while also reaffirming his support for the business relationship:

“I have had a great relationship with the local Papa John’s people over the years,” Foligno said. “It’s disappointing that people who work under that corporate name are affected by the choices (Schnatter) made.

“They are the ones being hurt by these harmful words. The whole thing is just unfortunate. It’s a sad deal for everyone.”

In our Cannon writer Slack chat, MrSwift expressed his frustration and disappointment with the CBJ response to this situation:

Louisville managed to get it right and we can’t.

The school that employs Bobby “crashed his motorbike with a coed” Petrino

Many people aren’t gonna see that [they’re taking his picture down]. They’re gonna see “you’re still associating with the racists company and enriching him indirectly”. That’s awful.

I certainly won’t be purchasing papa johns, Jackets50 or no. Is losing business that way with it?

When tons of other franchises are severing ties entirely and the CBJ are notable for being one of the few to stand with the racists company, that’s a really bad look

I asked, “Is standing with the company bad, given that the company also cut ties with the racist?”

Is he still a shareowner and getting rich off of the partnership?

If so, yes, imo

Then I said, “So, are you going to boycott every publicly traded company that may have a racist as a shareholder?

Also, I think people are more willing to dunk on the company here because those people don’t like the pizza anyway.”

I’m not a fan of the weak statement the team made in light of what others have done in response. I understand Foligno has raised money through charity but I do not think that outweighs the negative association the club has as one of the few teams that I’ve heard of to not sever ties entirely.

Also yes the pizza blows #TeamDonatos

I do not think the Blue Jackets have done anything wrong here. It’s fair to say that the franchisees are enough separated from the top of the corporate ladder as to not be held responsible for the chairman’s statements. While it’s a Louisville-based company, the company which owns the Columbus franchises is local. Their promotions have raised money for good causes, like the Janis Foligno Foundation.

BUT, I agree with my esteemed colleague that their statement looks bad in relation to what other professional franchises have done. I don’t like when people pile on to a company in a situation like this, when the company has done nothing wrong; only the founder has, and they acted appropriately in severing ties. However, in the case where the founder is the namesake, the very name of the company will be a reminder of what he’s done. What Jared Fogle did, for example, was far, far worse, but he was just a spokesman and Subway could easily move on from that ad campaign. The Blue Jackets can remove pictures of Papa John himself from Nationwide Arena, but his name will remain on every pizza stand and every pizza box sold there. That name will carry with it an association with his racist statements.

There is an easy solution: the Blue Jackets should go local with their pizza partnership. They should have done this regardless of Papa John’s behavior. Based on this list of the 100 highest grossing pizza chains of 2017, 11 are headquartered in Ohio. This includes #7 Sbarro in Columbus, #8 Marco’s in Toledo, and #21 Donatos, which of course was founded in Columbus and had previously been the official pizza sponsor of the team for over a decade.

Why not make as many sponsorships as possible with local companies, and ones which the fanbase has positive feelings for? Plus, the pizza’s just better. While I like Papa John’s just fine among the national chains, it is Donatos that holds a special place in my heart. I remember eating there on a near weekly basis growing up, and I found that I missed it when I went away to college.

Do the right thing, Jackets: avoid the controversy, and stay close to home. And get rid of that damn pizza song.