When the New England Patriots face off against the Los Angeles Rams on February 3 for Super Bowl 53, hungry sports fans in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will have plenty of food options. Chick-fil-A, though, will not be one of them.
Even though the fast-food chain has a location inside the stadium, Chick-fil-A will not be open during the Super Bowl, standing behind a decades-old policy that its stores close on Sundays in order to observe a day of rest.
The Atlanta-based company confirmed to Sports Illustrated that it wouldn’t be open during the Super Bowl and that instead, its stand will sell french fries from another fast-food chain.
“Our founder, Truett Cathy, made the decision to close on Sundays in 1946 when he opened his first restaurant in Hapeville, Georgia,” the Chick-fil-A website reads. “Having worked seven days a week in restaurants open 24 hours, Truett saw the importance of closing on Sundays so that he and his employees could set aside one day to rest and worship if they choose — a practice we uphold today.”
Not capitalizing on the opportunity to sell food during a blockbuster event like the Super Bowl, during which all 71,000 seats in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be filled, means Chick-fil-A is turning down a major business opportunity.
But the company, with more than 2,200 locations across the country, is deeply rooted in its religious values; Cathy, who died in 2014, built the company with Christian beliefs. In 2004, he told Decision Magazine that when applicants ask if they have to be Christian to get a job at Chick-fil-A, he would say, “‘Not at all, but we ask that you make your business decisions based on biblical principles.’ There seem to be no conflicts when we tell people of various faiths how important it is to stick to the Scriptures in business decisions.”
In 2007, Cathy told Forbes that he would probably fire an employee who “has been sinful or done something harmful to their family members.” Chick-fil-A employees, according to Forbes, are also asked to disclose their marital status and their association with “community, civic, social, church and/or professional organizations.”
Staying closed on Super Bowl Sunday is not the first time Chick-fil-A has put its founder’s beliefs first. In 2012, Dan Cathy, the son of Truett who is the now the company’s CEO, jumped into the debate over same-sex marriage, saying in a public radio interview that “we’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”
After the company was hit with angry boycotts and lost partnerships over Cathy’s comments, he boasted to the Baptist Press that he is “guilty as charged” because he is very “supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.” News about Cathy’s stance also revealed that the company had donated millions of dollars in donations to anti-LGBTQ groups through its charitable branch, the WinShape Foundation. Even though the company promised in 2014 to stay away from such topics and stick to selling fast food instead, as of 2017, it was still donating to anti-LGBTQ causes.
Like Chick-fil-A, many companies in America operate with strong religious beliefs, although some prefer to incorporate their values in more discreet ways. The fast-fashion brand Forever 21, for example, puts New Testament quotes on the bottom of its shopping bags, as does In-N-Out Burger. Marriott International, whose founder John Willard Marriott was an active member in the Church of Latter-Day Saints, places Mormon Bibles in most hotel rooms. Since 2011, Marriott also does not allow the purchase of pornographic entertainment in its rooms.
Others, though, have taken religious stances that landed them in the national spotlight. In 2014, the Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts company Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit that made its way up to the Supreme Court, after it fought (and won) against an Obamacare law that required companies to offer a full range of federally approved birth control options to its employees. As a family-owned company rooted in Christian values, Hobby Lobby didn’t want to offer plans that covered emergency contraceptives like Plan B, contending that the founders’ “religious beliefs prohibit them from providing health coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices that end human life after conception.”
Over the past year, more companies have also been moved to make value-driven decisions, even those not based in religion. While staying silent around national and political issues used to be common, more brands are integrating social causes into their branding. Last February, following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would stop selling guns to customers younger than 21 and end the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. In a statement, the company CEO wrote that “thoughts and prayers are not enough” for school shooting victims, and it advocated for gun control.
In September 2018, Nike cast controversial former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in a major ad campaign, staking its claim in the country’s racial politics. Both Chobani and Microsoft advocated for immigrants and refugees following President Trump’s bans on asylum seekers and Muslim travelers.
“Politics infuses everything now, and companies can’t escape that,” Jerry Davis, a University of Michigan professor of management and sociology, told Vox in December.
Even though the Super Bowl is one of the most anticipated sports events of the year, some customers may appreciate that Chick-fil-A is staying closed to stick to its beliefs as a company with Christian values.
That it’s sitting out on the action, of course, also means that the company has the luxury to do so. The company makes an annual $9 billion, and its stores do an average $4.4 million in sales, according to QSR Magazine, which is higher than McDonald’s and KFC. Like or hate its politics, the fast-food chain is still able to compete with businesses three times the size and sell plenty of food, even without the Super Bowl buzz.
Want more stories from The Goods by Vox? Sign up for our newsletter here.