Papa Johns Ends NFL Sponsorship After National Anthem Protests

Founder John Schnatter blamed player protests for low sales

John Schnatter

Papa Johns has ended its sponsorship deal with the NFL three months after founder and former CEO John Schnatter blamed player protests during the national anthem for declining sales.

The company’s current CEO Steve Ritchie announce the news on the earnings call on Tuesday, saying the company will shift its marketing to focus on individual deals with teams and players.

“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 two entities said in a joint statement.

Last November the company blamed the national anthem protests by NFL players and the league’s handling of the situation for the company’s low sales.

“The NFL has hurt us,” Schnatter said last November. “And more importantly, by not resolving the current debacle to the players and owners satisfaction, NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders … This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”

Following weeks of criticism, Schnatter stepped down as CEO in December and was replaced by chief operating officer Steve Ritchie on Jan. 1.

The NFL finished the regular season down nearly 10 percent in the ratings, a decline that can be attributed to a number of factors, including changing viewing habits and injured stars, as well as fleeing viewers turned off by protests.