Not only is John Schnatter’s days as the chairman and CEO of Papa John’s over, he’s no longer its spokesman.
The Louisville, Ky.-based pizza chain is pulling its founder from its marketing, the Associated Press reported on July 13, culminating a tumultuous eight months that saw Schnatter gradually cede all of his major roles with the company.
A Papa John’s spokesman has confirmed the Associated Press story.
According to the Associated Press, the company is not aware of any plans for the chain to change its name, but the report said that details of the marketing change are still being worked out.
The move would be huge for Papa John’s, which has used its founder’s likeness and personality as a major element in its marketing.
Schnatter’s face appears on the company’s logo. He has routinely appeared in the chain’s advertisements, often alongside football players such as Peyton Manning. And he says, “Better ingredients, better pizza, Papa John’s” at the end of other ads.
One of the risk factors the company has in its federal regulatory filings, in fact, states that the company’s business would be hurt if Schnatter’s reputation was damaged.
Schnatter’s reputation has taken a hit since November, when he blamed NFL player protests for poor ratings last season and, as a result, his own chain’s weakening same-store sales.
Schnatter ultimately resigned as the company’s CEO in December, handing the title to his company’s president, Steve Ritchie.
But Schnatter’s likeness remained with the company. And then, on July 11, Forbes reported that Schnatter used a racial slur during a training session with its marketing firm on how to avoid public relations problems.
Schnatter later acknowledged using the slur and apologized. But after the company lost a key sponsorship deal with Major League Baseball, the founder ultimately stepped down as chairman.
Papa John’s same-store sales have declined precipitously since the November comments—they declined 3.9% in the fourth quarter last year and then 5.3% in the first quarter of this year.
And according to Technomic Consumer Trends data, Papa John’s reputation with customers fell across the board since last year—and that was before the most recent incident, suggesting that the founder’s controversial status has hurt the company’s sales.