Papa John’s will discontinue its sponsorship of the National Football League, although it will continue its partnership with 22 individual teams.
The pizza chain has been the official pizza of the NFL since 2010, but has recently seen a 3.9 percent drop in sales from last year, The Daily Wire reported.
On an earnings conference call, CEO Steve Ritchie made the announcement, adding that the decision was mutual.
“While the NFL remains an important channel for us, we have determined that there are better ways to reach and activate this audience,” Ritchie said. “Thus we will shift our marketing for the broader NFL sponsorship to focus on our partnership with 22 specific NFL teams, a significant presence on league broadcast and digital platforms and on our relationships with many of the league’s most popular players and personalities.”
He added, “We have really got a lot of key learnings on how we can invest our dollars more appropriately. So we thank the NFL for all the efforts and the partnership that we’ve had over the last seven years, and we’ll continue to be very prominent on NFL game days as we move forward…”
In November, former CEO John Schnatter blamed the controversy regarding football players who kneel during the national anthem for “polarizing the customer, polarizing the country” and slowing down sales at the pizza chain restaurant, which is a sponsor and advertiser of the NFL.
“We are totally disappointed that the NFL and its leadership did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties long ago,” he said in a conference call with investors. “This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” according to Business Insider.
Papa John’s later tweeted an apology for Schnatter’s comments saying, “The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive. That definitely was not out intention.”
Schnatter stepped down as CEO of the company on Jan. 1 and was replaced by then-Chief Operating Officer Ritchie.
Ritchie didn’t say whether or not the NFL comments were a factor in Schnatter stepping down, but he did say that it was “the right time to make this change.”
“I think it’s possible that this was a conscious decision to get him out of the line of fire,” restaurant analyst John Gordon said. “The focus of the brand needs to be the pizza.”
Schnatter founded the pizza chain more than 30 years ago in a broom closet at his father’s bar, The Associated Press reported. Papa John’s now has more than 5,000 locations.
Ritchie started at Papa John’s by making pizzas and answering phones. He worked his way up, becoming a franchise owner in 2006. three years ago, he was promoted to COO.
“I am humbled to take on this role,” Ritchie said, according to Business Wire.
“By focusing on our team members, we will deliver the world class experiences our customers deserve. At Papa John’s, any opportunity is achievable if you dedicate yourself to putting your best foot forward every day. I’m certain our future company leaders are delivering pizzas in one of our 5,000 stores around the world right now.”
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