Culture and Business


Papa John’s Down, NFL Ratings Up

by Rick Johnson


And yet another Domino has fallen (cheap pun), in the latest saga of Papa John’s and its outspoken founder John Schnatter. It all started last November 2017, when the CEO commented that the NFL was to blame for its sluggish sales due to declining ratings and its failure to punish “those” protesting players. Within four weeks amongst a public relations nightmare, the stock dropped a whopping 20%.

By December John Schnatter was forced to step down as CEO, to be replaced by Steve Ritchie, the former COO. Apparently Papa John’s board wasn’t too pleased when his conflict with the NFL sparked a new sponsor, a white supremacist publication called The Daily Stormer. And now we’ve come to find, the NFL has cut all ties with Papa John’s as a sponsor and partnered with its closest competitor Pizza Hut, just in time for the 2018 NFL Draft.

The NFL making such a move has been a great PR move, as the perception of distancing itself from the outspoken right wing CEO’s is seen as “one for the people and players.” But it gets better – now it appears the NFL ratings were really not that bad after all, relatively speaking. This further underscores the truth that Papa John’s was way out of bounds and deserved the flag thrown by the NFL via ending the 10 year relationship.

Last year the news media published that NFL Ratings were down attributing it to player protest fatigue. Adding to these assumptions was the fact many fans were not pleased with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of the Ezekiel Elliott situation. A process that made Goodell judge, juror, and executioner.

But how many fans were really tuning out the NFL in places like Chicago?  What else is there to do in Chicago, in November, on a cold Sunday afternoon? Da Bears. In the age of overly social media, once we hear news stories , we tend not to sweat the little details. The tweet on the NFL’s declining ratings was all that we needed to hear. Any additional information that can’t fit into our little Facebook message box is simply fluff. But as the saying goes, the devil is truly in the detail.  You see, it takes a while for the official Nielsen data to be compiled. This is used to paint a clearer picture for advertisers and media professionals prior to what is called the “upfronts”, an annual media buying conference held in the springtime.

Nielsen provided a quick reality check once the data was in with a brief statement that.. “while NFL ratings are down, they are still top dog…by a long shot”. The following was reported in the January edition of Ad Age following Nielsen’s annual report to the industry-

“Despite losing 9 percent of its year-ago audience and coming under attack from both sides of the political spectrum, the NFL in 2017 continued to cast a long shadow over the media landscape.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, NFL games accounted for 37 of the year’s top 50 broadcasts, or nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of the most-watched programs on TV. That marked a 32 percent increase compared to 2016, when the NFL laid claim to 28 of the top 50 most-watched programs, and was flat versus the 37 top airings the league chalked up in the previous year.

(That the NFL’s dominance appeared to wilt somewhat in 2016 had much to do with the fact that 11 of that year’s most-viewed broadcasts were notched by NBC’s coverage of the Rio Summer Olympics.)

“NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” which remained the No. 2 NFL window with an average delivery of 18.2 million viewers and a 10.3 household rating, accounted for six of 2017’s top 50 broadcasts. And while that marked an 11 percent drop from the year-ago 20.4 million viewers and 11.4 rating, the margin separating “Sunday Night Football” from its general-entertainment competition is only widening. In eight head-to-head fall matchups, NBC’s premiere NFL showcase averaged a 6.5 rating in the target demo, which works out to 8.38 million adults 18-49; by comparison, AMC‘s “The Walking Dead” drew a 3.8, or around 4.9 million members of the dollar demo”. – Ad Age January 2018 Nielsen Report


So what does all this mean? It means the NFL is getting 700 large ($700k) for a 3o second spot from advertisers.  Does the NFL have issues, absolutely. It goes without saying that Roger Goodell needs to get his house in order, which is why the Papa John’s situation was perceived as a step in the right direction by many. He also needs to take on a leadership role versus that of an enforcer or lieutenant of the player police. Let’s not leave out the refs, whose calls at times can be a little suspicious to say the least.

Yet despite all the room for improvement it’s a simple reminder of just how resilient mega brands can be- and the NFL is a 500 lb. gorilla mega brand.  The NFL is no different than a Nike, or Amazon, or a Disney whom have all faced their own uphill battles. Imagine how the folks at Disney felt when this small company called Pixar upstaged them at their own game of animation. The pain was so bad that McDonald’s did an NFL type of move, and kicked Disney out the door and signed Pixar.

But the game of marketing is not unlike football, where comebacks and interceptions are common. Speaking of which McDonald’s just announced it’s reunion back with Disney after a 10 year hiatus. Now that’s a comeback Tom Brady could certainly appreciate I’m sure.


Marvel Salutes Black Panther

by Rick Johnson




First let’s give it up to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for giving black folks a seat at the super hero table with The Black Panther. Second let’s give it up to young director Ryan Coogler’s directorial performance, whom at the age of 31 displayed chops of a far more experienced filmmaker.

The Black Panther produces a wide range of Afrocentric imagery and characters presented in a way that balances fantasy with cultural authenticity. The look of Africa and the characters make it difficult to take your eyes off the screen even for a moment, which is to be expected from Marvel.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

When these guys embarked on creating a black super hero darn near fifty years ago, black people had yet to know Richard Pryor, Oprah, or Eddie Murphy.  So clearly this was a bold and risky move for its time by Marvel. Thus Black Panther should be expected to contain awkward elements of political correctness. For this reason Black Panther is a non-traditional comic book super hero who is forever connected with his place of origin, Africa.

While comic book super heroes are not all created equal, Black Panther has carried so much baggage over his 50 year development that his identity seems not as grounded as other Marvel Characters. Perhaps it’s his classification as a  “super hero” that teases expectations of fighting the usual suspects of criminals and terrorists.  In this category The Black Panther would be “super-hero light” as his character is dominated with familial and tribal African matters only a black super hero would be qualified for.

At the end of the day two talented white guys writing a character called Black Panther should require some input by black creatives, and Coogler and Joe Robert Cole certainly deliver. The nemesis Erik Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan provides the contemporary voice to make the story relevant while not being too preachy.

T’ Challa

While we all appreciate Lee and Kirby for The Black Panther, it should have been a given. After all some of the world’s best athletes are men of color, so in my humble opinion a black super hero is, well, a no-brainer. In addition research has shown comic books are enjoyed by kids of all races.  Ok, so you sit down and create a black super hero, and the first question is -what powers should he have right? After  all, at the core of any super hero are his powers. Superman needs to fly, Spiderman needs to hang, and Iron Man can do damn near everything. But somewhere in the super hero writer’s room, The Black Panther did not come out with any specific powers, other than those provided by the mineral vibranium.

Photo by Matt Kennedy / Marvel Studios

To that purpose, the Black Panther’s suit absorbs sound and energy. From a physics standpoint that’s an interesting play on the color black, as dark objects “absorb” light while white objects “reflect” light. And while most Marvel Super Heroes are constantly fiddling with their powers and abilities, Black Panther is not so much defined by his Panther powers alone. The important distinction here is that Black Panther is a leader of men, responsible for maintaining the wealth and independence of his nation, Wakanda.

The Black Panther’s identity is not a secret the way most traditional super heroes are, which given its socio-cultural foundation insures he is not a black man in hiding. These are interesting aspects where race and fiction are handled to protect us from the proverbial stereotyping.  In other words, race is handled to project his individuality rather than a generic form of representation.  So Marvel did their best to insure we don’t get just another black man in a cape.

That said, Black Panther does not identify with a specific set of skills or professional background. Are these important? Well they seem awfully important to other super hero profiles. We know Spider Man is a smart student, Iron Man a rich brilliant scientist, Bruce Banner is also a scientist, even Batman is a rich philanthropist. So again, in the super hero writers room someone decided that he would have no expertise or profession?  Perhaps coming soon.

That said, in the comic book version he makes decisions like selling off tiny pieces of vibranium as negotiation tactics for the long term preservation of Wakanda. The significance of this action has tremendous implications in the real world pertaining to African history and the theft of its assets. This element of the back story was side stepped in this opening saga.

For some reason I was longing for more Black Panther feats of amazement and superior fighting agility. The hand to hand combat was more realistic and worked well, yet not typical super hero gravity defying acts of acrobatics.  While I enjoyed the battle scenes, establishing Panther with superior fighting capabilities was clearly not the modus operandi opting instead for human realism.

The writers clearly toned down the fantasy element for the dramatic, minimizing overdone super hero antics compared to traditional Marvel films.  This allows far more time to establish Black Panther, a wise move that seems fitting for Part I. This strategy also opens up the Black Panther to a much wider audience than your typical super hero fans, a brilliant move by the studio.


Special Effects

The film is beautiful to look at and Director of Photography Rachel Morrison deserves some accolades here. The city of Wakanda is a magical hidden metropolis powered on vibranium- a Star Trekien Egypt-like environment.  Overall the special effects were somewhat conservative, but worked well considering the fact the film is positioned as more of an action drama featuring great actors, versus a lot of gratuitous computer generated eye candy.


My overall rating of this movie is 4.7 out of 5 stars as the special effects and fighting action scenes could have used more punch- leveraging that high action Marvel formula. But Marvel knows exactly what it’s doing with Black Panther. They understand the power and omnipotence of giving a black character God-like powers.  And while we assume Marvel has no experience with a minority cast, I would suggest watching the movie “Logan”, a sequel of the X-Men franchise.

Logan, alias Wolverine, must rescue a mutant little girl from bounty hunters, we later find could be his daughter by DNA. Some key points about race in the movie that struck me:  the girl is Mexican as she was raised in a mutant breeding farm in Mexico, she is curiously mute the entire movie, when she finally speaks- it’s spanish. At one point in the film, a black family comes to the aid of Wolverine. The entire black family- mother, father, teenage boy are violently killed. They would be the only innocent people to die in the film! In the very first scene of the film, Wolverine is confronted by a Mexican gang, who he has to kill of course.

My point is simply that Marvel has created films that handle minority characters in a way that seems to suggest indifference. Some notable black  film directors passed on The Black Panther for various reasons. And while this is a wonderful movie with a great cast, something appears to be missing.

Marvel super heroes are typically granted with very specific powers- not so much for Black Panther.  Based on Marvels indifference to black characters in the past, hard to believe this was an oversight. Whereby looking closely at other Marvel movies, seems only to confirm this glaring difference between Black Panther and his other super hero brethren. Though I would prefer to believe that a super hero named The Black Panther was initially created to symbolize black power, it’s conceivable Marvel traded in their dashikis to insure the movie would play in Peoria.




Pursuit of a Financial Genius -Remembering Travers Bell Jr.

by Rick W. Johnson



Martin Luther King’s birthday not only represents a time to pay tribute to his legacy, but to those who followed him through doors formerly never opened to Black people.  While most of us are familiar with the Chris Gardner story as told in the movie Pursuit of Happiness, many don’t know the story of Travers Bell Jr. Bell was the founder of the first and only black-owned member firm of the New York Stock Exchange.  While his tragic death at the young age of 46 was a great loss, his achievements on Wall Street as a successful entrepreneur and global business icon represented the realization of black genius.

In 1970 with $175,000 in capital, Mr. Bell with co-founder Willie E. Daniels opened Daniels & Bell Inc.  the first black securities bond firm on Wall Street. Under Bell’s leadership the firm focused on underwriting municipal products but the real achievement begins with being able to acquire a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. In recent times the cost of a seat on the New York Stock Exchange easily runs into the millions of dollars.

Mr. Bell was raised on the south side of Chicago, and like MLK, had a dream.  His dream was starting his own investment firm after becoming exposed to the business from his own father, Travers Bell Sr. Equipped with a degree from Washington University in St. Louis and the New York Institute of Finance, his career rose quickly and soon found himself as a VP at Dempsey Tegler and Company.

Travers Bell Jr. launched Daniels and Bell, the first black owned bond trading firm in 1971.

Upon seeing his dream come to fruition in the founding of his own company, Travis reached out to black leaders and mayors to originate community financing and development deals. With a unique ability to identify underserved markets, he would use his urban background to develop relationships in the US as well as abroad.  Yet he also stresses:

“that while being a unique black owned business opens some doors, in the world of money its performance that ultimately counts”

Travers Bell’s firm which became known as the Dan Bell Group, would execute deals in Africa, had a majority ownership stake in a bank,  its own investment advisory firm, a commodity trading business, and its flagship muni bond business. Bells interest in commodities and cocoa would even steer him into acquiring Chocoline, a chocolate company.

African American pioneers can get lost in history, so upon MLK day it is fitting to pay our respects to an unsung hero from the financial world, Travers Bell Jr.

He is one of two investors I can think of who possessed the keen vision to foresee the opportunity in chocolate.  Warren Buffet would purchase See’s Candies in 1972.






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