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Papa John’s tries to ease controversy on Twitter

Chain apologizes two weeks after CEO’s controversial statements about NFL ratings

Two weeks after Papa John’s CEO ignited a firestorm of controversy by blaming NFL player protests for weak ratings and the chain’s weak sales, the brand apologized in a series of tweets on Tuesday.

The Louisville, Ky.-based pizza chain said that comments CEO John Schnatter made earlier this month were business factors, and were not intended to be divisive.

The company also attempted to calm both sides of what has become one of the most heated issues in American politics.

Papa John’s additionally made a rather pointed comment aimed at neo-Nazi groups who urged each another to eat the chain’s pizza following Schnatter’s comments.

During Papa John’s third-quarter earnings call earlier this month, a clearly frustrated Schnatter blasted the NFL for the problems over the protests, blaming the league for weaker ratings that have in turn weighed down the chain’s sales. 

“The NFL has hurt us,” Schnatter said. “More importantly, by not resolving the current debacle in a manner that was satisfactory to both sides, it has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”

Papa John’s is an NFL sponsor and heavy advertiser during football games. Weaker ratings led the company to lower same-store sales expectations for the year. Same-store sales increased 1 percent in the quarter ended Sept. 24. 

“I’m disappointed in the NFL and its leadership that they did not resolve this ongoing situation to the satisfaction of all parties,” Schnatter said during the call. “This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”

Schnatter’s comments were widely reported, and Papa John’s was trending on Twitter for several hours afterwards. 

The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer named Papa John’s the “official pizza” of the alt-right, and the chain ended up releasing a statement that it wanted nothing to do with such groups.

Papa John’s stock has fallen 13 percent since the third-quarter earnings report. Weaker sales have sent the stock down more than 30 percent this year.

Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

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