Papa John’s Founder John Schnatter Steps Down As CEO, Weeks After Comments Critical of NFL Anthem Protests

AP Matt Dunham Saints
AP Photo/Matt Dunham

Papa John’s founder John Schnatter has stepped down as CEO of the company he founded, two months after criticizing the NFL’s handling of the player-led anthem protests.

Schnatter made comments critical of NFL leadership, and their handling of the NFL anthem protest issue, in November.

At the time, Papa John’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Robert Thompson said, “The NFL is crucial to Papa John’s business. The company began its partnership with the NFL in 2010 and has ‘Preferred Pizza’ partnerships with 23 NFL teams. Last year, the company signed a multi-year partnership with the NFL and the Super Bowl.

“Our partnership with the NFL, in particular, has been exceptional. One of the reasons the NFL is such a strong marketing opportunity is because of the number of people that watch the games live whether it be at home or in the stadium.”

Schnatter said in a company conference call, “The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country.”

Papa John’s cited falling sales, as the impetus behind their concerns, and decision to speak out against NFL leadership. However, after the company received a significant backlash from the media, in addition to Nazi websites labeling the company the “official Pizza of the Alt-Right,” Papa John’s backtracked.

Schnatter eventually apologized for his public criticism of the league, and, in a series of tweets from the company account, lauded the efforts of the protesters to “create a platform for change.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, “Schnatter will be replaced as chief executive by Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie on Jan. 1, the company announced Thursday. Schnatter, who appears in the chain’s commercials and on its pizza boxes, and is the company’s biggest shareholder, remains chairman of the board.”

Ritchie would not say if Schnatter’s NFL comments played a role in the job change.

The Tribune explains, “Shares of Papa John’s are down about 13 percent since the day before the NFL comments were made, reducing the value of Schnatter’s stake in the company by nearly $84 million. Schnatter owns nearly 9.5 million shares of Papa John’s International Inc., and his total stake was valued at more than $560 million on Thursday, according to FactSet. The company’s stock is down 30 percent since the beginning of the year.”

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