As of Tuesday, Papa John’s is no longer the official pizza of the NFL, according to a joint statement from the National Football League and the pizza chain.
Papa John’s CEO Steve Ritchie, who took over from founder John Schnatter on Jan. 1, told investors the company will shift its marketing from the whole NFL and instead focus on specific teams and players, according to Business Insider.
In addition, Ritchie said, the company will emphasize digital sales and work toward changing the perception that its pizza is “too expensive.”
Although Papa John’s has been the official pizza of the NFL since 2010, the chain reported that North American sales dropped nearly 4 percent during the last three months of 2017 ― which, if you need a reminder, was football season.
Executives blamed the sales slump on “negative consumer sentiment.” And Schnatter may have been responsible for that. In November, he faced backlash after claiming that NFL players’ kneeling protests were costing Papa John’s money.
Schnatter put the blame on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying the NFL hurt Papa John’s shareholders “by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction.”
Schnatter, who supported Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, told investors that Goodell should have stopped the players from exercising their right to free expression back in 2016. The player protests began when quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee in 2016 during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in America.
Schnatter’s remarks caused negative publicity for the company, and some NFL owners speculate Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who has a stake in more than 100 Papa John’s locations, talked Schnatter into turning his attack on the league public, according to Pro Football Talk.
As a result of poor sales, Schnatter stepped down as CEO at the beginning of the year, though he remains as chairman.