Shares of the pizza giant plunged 8% to $78.83 Wednesday after fourth quarter sales fell short of Wall Street's estimates. Papa John's fourth quarter adjusted earnings came in at 88 cents a share, higher than the 66 cents expected by analysts. But, the company posted weak revenue of $439.6 million, missing Wall Street's estimates of $447 million. System-wide same-store sales in North America rose 3.8%, falling short of estimates for a gain of 5.9%.
It's not hard to blame Wall Street for the harsh reaction: shares of Papa John's have surged about 38% over the past year, trouncing the S&P 500's gain of nearly 22%. The result may also be a disappointment as Papa John's is fresh off a major marketing campaign for its newly re-launched pan pizza (video above).
Papa himself moved quickly to try and dispel Wall Street's concerns.
Papa John's founder and CEO John Schnatter said on the company's earnings call that its pan pizza was its "biggest product launch" yet and it is being "very well received by customers."
Meanwhile, Schnatter said Papa John's opened its 5,000th global unit during the quarter and increased its digital mix to more than 55% of sales -- a key to its solid growth in recent years.
The company's Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie said Wall Street can "look for 2017 to be another exciting year" for digital growth, touting its moves to allow customers to purchase pizza online with Papa John's Rewards, gift cards and PayPal (PYPL) - Get Report , versus just credit cards.
But one can't help but to think lackluster NFL TV ratings weighed on Papa John's, which is the official pizza sponsor of the league. After all, Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) -- which sells football party must-haves in fried chicken wings -- reported a disastrous fourth quarter.
Super Bowl LI was seen by 113.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen, up slightly vs. a year ago.
Overall, average TV viewership for the 2016 NFL season fell 8% to 16.5 million people, marking the steepest drop-off in viewers in the past 10 years, Nielsen said.
"Given the fact that we have a significant investment into the NFL, an 8% decline in ratings does play a small factor in some of our performance," Ritchie conceded.
Yum said in its recent fourth quarter report that it saw a 2% decline in same-store sales at its Pizza Hut locations. On the other hand, comparable store sales grew 3% at Yum's KFC and Taco Bell fast-food chains.