Papa John's is no longer the official pizza of the NFL.
In a joint statement Tuesday, the pizza company and the league said they have made a mutual decision to end their official league sponsorship, a little less than four months after former CEO John Schnatter blamed national-anthem protests for declining sales.
However, new CEO Steve Ritchie said on an earnings call Tuesday that Papa John's will continue to play a role on NFL game days. Papa John’s still has team partnerships with more than 20 NFL franchises, although the company will no longer be allowed to use team or league logos or use the Super Bowl in promotions.
"While the NFL remains an important channel for us, we have determined there are better ways to reach and activate this audience," Richie said on the call. "Thus, we will shift our marketing from a broader NFL sponsorship to partnerships with 22 specific NFL teams, a significant presence on broadcast and league platforms and with our relationships with many of the league's most popular players and personalities."
In a joint statement, the NFL and Papa John's said ending the partnership was "a mutual decision." Papa John's had been a partner of the NFL since 2010.
Papa John's said in a press release that its fourth-quarter sales had declined by nearly 4% in 2017, relative to the same time period one year earlier.
Papa John's had been one of the NFL's most prominent sponsors and advertisers in recent years; An annual survey by SportsBusiness Journal and Turnkey Intelligence last year rated it the league's most recognized sponsor for a second consecutive year.
Their relationship grew rocky in November, when Schnatter directly linked the NFL — and, more specifically, its handling of protests by individual players during the national anthem — to his company's declining pizza sales during an analyst call.
"The NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders," he said. "The NFL has been a long and valued partner over the years. But we're certainly disappointed that the NFL and its leadership did not resolve the ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties long ago. This should've been nipped in the bud a year and half ago."
Papa John's later apologized for the comments, which sparked a sharp decline in the company's stock and prompted a white supremacist publication to claim Papa John's as "the official pizza of the alt-right." Schnatter subsequently resigned as CEO on Jan. 1.
Contributing: A.J. Perez
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.