Subway has struggled in the year since it hired soccer star and left-wing activist Megan Rapinoe as a national spokeswoman, with hundreds of stores closing across the nation.
The fast-food chain — whose best-known spokesman, Jared Fogle, went to jail for child pornography possession in 2015 — hired Rapinoe as a pitchwoman early last year.
One commercial featured the purple-haired anthem protester knocking food out of a man’s hand with a soccer ball.
Hiring Rapinoe didn’t help the company’s fortunes, however: In 2021, 1,043 Subway locations closed, the New York Post reported Thursday.
The chain already had been losing stores in the two years before she became the chain’s pitchwoman.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Subway lost 1,609 stores. In 2019, it lost 999, the Post reported.
Rapinoe’s left-wing political activism, especially her kneeling in protest during the national anthem, made some franchise owners and customers very unhappy with the chain’s decision to make her the face of the brand.
The soccer star was one of the first to follow the example of then-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sat and then kneeled for the anthem to protest racial injustice in August 2016.
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it,” Rapinoe told American Soccer Now in September of that year.
“It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this. We don’t need to be the leading voice, of course, but standing in support of them is something that’s really powerful,” she added.
Some franchise owners complained about Rapinoe as she and most of her teammates on the U.S. Women’s National Team protested in advance of the Tokyo Olympics, where they finished a disappointing third.
“Spending our money to make a political statement is completely and totally out of bounds,” one Arizona franchisee said last July on a discussion forum hosted by the North American Association of Subway Franchisees, according to the Post.
Another location owner shared that customers had boycotted the store over Rapinoe.
Yet another franchise owner wrote that Subway needed to stop running the national commercial featuring the divisive athlete.
“The ad should be pulled and done with. It gets tiring apologizing,” the person said, according to the Post.
Until she's dropped, Subway gets none of my business.
— Alonzo T. McZephyr (@wlmtx) August 7, 2021
Overall, Subway has shrunk across the nation by 22 percent since 2016, the outlet reported.
In comparison with other fast-food chains, this is drastic.
Overall in 2021, McDonald’s lost 247 locations in the U.S. — 2 percent of its total. From 2019 through 2021, the burger chain lost 3.4 percent of its American locations, which is small compared with Subway’s 15 percent loss in that time.
A Subway representative told the Post that the chain is “making strategic enhancements to our vast footprint and making sure our restaurants are in the best format and locations” and that it is “already seeing our efforts pay off with profitability per restaurant increasing as our restaurants begin to operate at a higher level and with more efficiency.”