Papa John’s and the NFL described the decision to end a sponsorship deal that began in 2010 as a “mutual decision,” but the relationship frayed last season when company founder John Schnatter blamed national anthem demonstrations by some NFL players for sagging pizza sales. Schnatter pointed to “poor leadership” at the top of the league and said the “controversy” was one that “should have been nipped in the bud” when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in the summer of 2016.
The company’s stock plummeted and Papa John’s apologized less than two weeks after Schnatter’s initial comments, saying they were not intended to be “divisive.” The chain added that, while it believes Americans “should honor the anthem,” it supports “the players’ movement to create a new platform for change.” By December, Schnatter had stepped down as head of the company and, one day after Papa John’s split with the NFL, Pizza Hut became the official pizza of the league.
Don’t expect Peyton Manning to disappear from TV screens during NFL games, though. He will remain an omnipresent Papa John’s pitchman and brand ambassador. There will continue to be partnerships between Papa John’s and 22 local teams.