Papa John’s, NFL end sponsorship deal

The NFL is back in the market for a new official pizza sponsor.

Papa John’s on Tuesday said it has mutually agreed to end its official league sponsorship, months after company founder and former CEO John Schnatter publicly criticized the NFL’s handling of national anthem protests. Steve Ritchie, who replaced Schnatter as CEO in January, said on a fourth quarter earnings call that Papa John’s will shift its marketing dollars toward star players and its 22 partner teams within the NFL.

Ritchie said the decision came after internal research revealed the need to make wholesale changes to the company’s marketing strategy. The decision means Papa John’s will no longer have an official presence at league events like the Super Bowl. FOX Business Network's Charlie Gasparino was first to report the end of the sponsorship agreement.

“The NFL and Papa John’s have made a mutual decision to shift from their official league sponsorship to a focus on partnerships with 22 local NFL teams, presence in broadcast and digital media, and key personalities in the sport,” the organizations said in a joint statement.

Papa John’s shares fell more than 5% in after-hours trading on Tuesday after the struggling pizza company reported adjusting earnings per share of 65 cents and revenue of $467.6 million, below Wall Street’s expectations. U.S. same-store sales fell 3.9% in the quarter, while international same-store sales rose 2.6%.

Ritchie said Papa John’s has overhauled its marketing efforts, hiring new advertising and public relations firms and focusing on creative work that emphasizes the brand’s quality ingredients. He added that the Kentucky-based company will make investments in digital technology and strategic partnerships.

Schnatter stepped down as CEO shortly after he blamed weak third-quarter sales on the NFL’s “poor leadership” in relation to the anthem controversy. Papa John’s executives said the negative consumer response had impacted its business due to its close relationship with the league.

Ritchie told FOX Business last November that Schnatter’s comments were “misconstrued,” but added that internal data showed the NFL partnership was having a negative impact on customer relations.