The Major League Baseball World Series wrapped up Wednesday with an extra-innings win by the Chicago Cubs over the Cleveland Indians, ending the series with enough excitement that even Hollywood would struggle to top it.

With all the attention garnered for series, including one of the most-watched Game 7s in recent history, Papa John’s International couldn’t be happier with its MLB partnership, which is in its first year. “MLB is on fire,” Papa John’s International founder John Schnatter said earlier that day.

“Our Papa Slam promotion has performed very well, and we look forward to a long and successful partnership with MLB for many years to come,” Schnatter told analysts Wednesday. “We moved a little bit of our assets over to MLB this year,” he added later.

Time will tell whether that remains true next year. After all, the Cubs’ 108-year drought is over.

To be sure, Papa John’s is still invested in the National Football League, though this year, ratings have slipped and its longtime spokesman, Peyton Manning, has retired from the game.

“Monday Night Football” ratings are down 20 percent this year compared to last year, and “Sunday Night Football” has declined 18.5 percent, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. Bloomberg attributes the dip to boring games and changes in how people consume media, noting that millennials tend to drop cable in favor of online television options.

In 2009, the NFL started offering NFL RedZone, which allows subscribers to watch only the most exciting parts of each game commercial-free, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

Papa John’s executives acknowledged that the NFL ratings had struggled this year, but it is still in the Top 10 in terms of viewership every week, they added.

“We still feel really good about the long-term benefits of the NFL, and it’s certainly something that we monitor, and the NFL is monitoring it as well, and they will make good on any issues related to the ratings” said Steve Ritchie, Papa John’s president and chief operating officer.

Papa John’s is in a transition period with how it works the NFL into its advertising. Manning is still a Papa John’s franchisee. The company is working through different ways to keep Manning relevant in its spots that run during NFL games.

“The commercials have done quite well, but the dichotomy and the dynamics of him having as a fan versus the player is something that we have to deal with,” Schnatter told analysts.

A couple of years ago on a call with analysts, Schnatter said Manning a major reason the pizza brand was performing so well.

“When we got involved first with Peyton Manning, the market capital of Papa John’s was $900 million. Today it’s over $2.2 billion, and I got to tell you, any company or organization that has an opportunity to get involved with Peyton Manning and/or the Manning family should jump all over it,” he said then.

Despite lower NFL ratings, Papa John’s reported positive numbers during the third quarter of 2016. Same-store sales were up 5.5 percent at North American stores and 7.6 percent internationally compared with the same period last year. Its diluted earnings per share rose 26.7 percent to $0.57 a share.

Third quarter revenue increased 8.5 percent, to $422.4 million, while net income jumped 19.5 percent to $21.5 million for the quarter.

Papa John’s already is taking up a good deal of market share, but it’s looking to grab more with the introduction of the pan pizza, a product that directly competes with other pizza brands, including Domino’s and Pizza Hut.

“It is going to provide an opportunity to cut into that and provide more market share for Papa John’s,” Ritchie said. “We look for this to really drive long-term growth.”

At Papa John’s corporate headquarters in Louisville, some 800 employees regularly eat at the in-house restaurant. Schnatter said there the pan pizza has begun outselling the regular crust pizza, which he believes bodes well for the new offering.

“That gives me a lot of confidence that we have a quality product.”

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]