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Papa John's is no longer the official pizza of the NFL after dispute over kneeling controversy

Papa John's CEO said that they had ended their partnership with the NFL after the kneeling controversy had cut into their sales in the fourth quarter. (File photo/Getty Images)

Papa John's Pizza announced that they would be ending their partnership with the NFL after a troubled season when their founder said the anthem kneeling controversy cost them customers.

Here's what Papa John's says

"We will shift our marketing from the broader NFL sponsorship" said Papa John's CEO Steve Ritchie, who assumed the role after founder John Schnatter relinquished the seat. Ritchie said they would be focusing on specific teams and players.

And the company will no longer be identified at the NFL's "official pizza."

Papa John's and the NFL released a statement calling the decision "mutual."

Kneeling hits the pizza biz

Schnatter began added to the kneeling controversy when he said in November that the public furor had divided the country and hurt his sales.

“The NFL has hurt Papa John’s shareholders. The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country,” he said. “The NFL has hurt us. We are disappointed the NFL and its leadership did not resolve this."

He announced the next month that he would be stepping down as CEO.

Some Trump supporters then took up Papa John's as their pizza of choice as a way of approving Schnatter's criticism of the NFL over the kneeling.

Business Insider reported that the company had seen a drop in sales for the fourth quarter - when much of the NFL season continued.

On Tuesday, Papa John's reported that system-wide comparable sales dropped 3.9% in North America in the fourth quarter.

Executives said that "negative consumer sentiment" contributed to the sales slump.

Ritchie said that the company will work to expand its menu and change perception that their pizza is "too expensive."

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