Papa John's founder exiting as CEO weeks after National Football League comments

Joy Montgomery
December 24, 2017

"I think it's possible that this was a conscious decision to get him out of the line of fire", said restaurant analyst John Gordon, who is the founder and CEO of Pacific Management Consulting Group.

Almost two months after pizza chain Papa John's apologized for comments its CEO made about NFL players' pre-game national anthem protests, the company announced that the chief executive is being replaced.

Schnatter, whose pizza is an official NFL sponsor, blamed his company's financial losses on NFL players protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.

Some said Papa John's sales were hit because the pizza isn't that good. He was named chief operating officer three years ago. Schnatter, who founded the chain, endorsed Trump for president.

"I am so proud of Steve", Schnatter said in a company statement announcing the change.

"We expect it to persist unless a solution is put in place", Ritchie said about the kneeling's connection to falling pizza sales. Shares of the pizza chain have lost about a third of their value this year, putting them on course for the first annual decline since 2008.

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"In his duties as Chairman and founder, Schnatter will continue to champion the core principles that led to recognition as the industry leader in product quality and customer satisfaction", the release stated. The company now has more than 5,000 locations.

Ritchie, 43, began his career with the pizza chain in 1996 as a customer service representative and slowly worked his way up, eventually becoming a franchisee owner in 2006.

"This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago", Schnatter said on a conference call with investors in November.

Company shares are down 13 percent since the National Football League announcement was made.

Papa John's Pizza has come a long way from the renovated broom where Schnatter originally set up shop, shortly after graduating from Indiana's Ball State University in 1983. He claimed that to insure his employees he would need to raise the costs of pizza and deliveries. Ritchie said plans for him to succeed Schnatter were made after that.

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