September 2, 2010 / 1:01 PM / in 8 years

Papa John's kicks off NFL marketing ahead of season

* Deal expected to help company raise U.S. market share

* 3-year sponsorship deal with NFL worth $5 mln/yr-source

* Americans eat 75 football fields of pizza a day

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT, Sept 2 (Reuters) - U.S. pizza chain Papa John’s International Inc (PZZA.O) will try to score with hungry fans with the Monday launch of a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign around its new sponsorship deal with the National Football League.

Papa John’s, the No. 3 U.S. pizza chain behind Yum Brands Inc’s (YUM.N) Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza Inc (DPZ.N), will begin selling extra-large pizzas in a customized box that touts its partnership with the NFL and NBC Sports’ Sunday night football programming.

During the NFL season, which ends in February with the Super Bowl, it also will sponsor NFL talk and fantasy football programs on Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) ESPN sports network and the U.S. sports league’s cable TV channel, NFL Network.

“We feel very prepared to take full advantage through our NFL partnership and our other network partnerships to gain market share on key pizza consumption days,” Papa John’s Chief Marketing officer Andrew Varga said, referring to the Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays on which NFL games are played.

The U.S. pizza delivery market has been very competitive during the weak economy, with chains resorting to price cuts or other promotions to lure consumers.

Papa John’s is counting on its three-year NFL sponsorship deal signed in June to help boost its share of the $30 billion U.S. industry pie, Varga said.

The company, which also sponsors 12 NFL teams, the football stadium at the University of Louisville and the men’s college basketball tournament, is targeting the NFL’s 181 million fans with its marketing, including sponsoring fantasy football games to reach the more hard-core consumers.

Varga did not disclose the financial commitment for the company’s biggest sponsorship deal ever, but a source familiar with the agreement said it totaled about $5 million annually.

“When you make any investment of this size both in the NFL and the NBC property, we anticipate really seeing some nice growth,” Varga said.

He declined to say how much exactly the company is spending on the marketing, but a company typically spends about 1.4 times the money marketing a large sponsorship as it does signing a deal according to IEG, a unit of advertising company WPP Plc (WPP.L).

Papa John’s spending on U.S. advertising through May was up about 11 percent from last year, when it spent $103 million, according to Kantar Media.

The share of U.S. sales for Papa John’s last year was 7.2 percent, trailing Pizza Hut (17.5 percent) and Domino’s (10.6 percent), according to foodservice consulting firm Technomic.

Papa John’s sponsored the Super Bowl as a “test drive” and that led to the broader sponsorship, Varga said.

It believes what happened in February on Super Bowl Sunday — when the company saw its best sales day ever at more than 900,000 pizzas, up more than 30 percent from the prior year — will be repeated on a smaller scale for the entire NFL season.

Americans eat 350 slices of pizza per second, or enough to cover more than 75 football fields a day, the company said.

“Few things go better together than pizza and football,” NBC Sports senior vice president Mike McCarley said.

Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit

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