Papa John’s, NFL end sponsorship deal

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NEW YORK — Papa John’s is breaking up with the NFL.

The pizza chain, which last year blamed slumping sales on the NFL’s handling of player protests, is ending its sponsorship of the league.

“While the NFL remains an important channel for us, we have determined that there are better ways to reach and activate this audience,” CEO Steve Ritchie said a conference call to discuss the company’s quarterly earnings.

Papa John’s has been a league sponsor since 2010. It will keep its partnerships with 22 of the individual teams.

Last fall, then-CEO John Schnatter received heavy criticism after he said Papa John’s sales were hurt by the NFL’s handling of protests by players who knelt during the national anthem.

“This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago,” Schnatter told investors at the time. “The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country.”

The company later apologized.

“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,” it said. “That definitely was not our intention.”

Schnatter left the company at the end of the year.

Ritchie said the parting was mutual. The NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Papa John’s reported Tuesday that North American sales were down 3.9 percent from a year ago. The stock has lost a third of its value since June.

“We have really got a lot of key earnings on how we can invest our dollars more appropriately,” Ritchie said. “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 a different way.

Papa John’s stock was down almost 6 percent after hours.

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