The NFL is down one official pizza sponsor, as Papa John's International Inc. announced on Tuesday that they were ending their relationship of nearly a decade. The pizza company will instead focus marketing efforts on star players and its 22 partner teams within the league, new CEO Steve Ritchie said on a fourth quarter earnings call.

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The decision followed an internal decision to make sweeping changes to the company's marketing strategy, and comes on the heels of strained relations over comments made by the former CEO, John Schnatter - who slammed the league in November over sagging ratings. Schnatter also said that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fumbled the ball in his handling of the ongoing controversy over players kneeling during the national anthem.

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In November, the company pulled its ads from the NFL amid Schnatter's criticisms: 

“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” Schnatter said on a November conference call before his departure.

“NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”

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“The NFL and Papa John’s have made a mutual decision to shift from their official league sponsorship to a focus on partnerships with 22 local NFL teams, presence in broadcast and digital media, and key personalities in the sport,” both organizations said in a joint statement.

The sponsorship’s demise comes during a slump at the pizza chain. The company posted a 3.9 percent decline in North American same-store sales last quarter, sending the shares tumbling in extended trading on Tuesday. Papa John’s pledged to reverse the decline by improving its loyalty program, hiring a new public relations partner and revamping its marketing. -Bloomberg

Shares were off as much as 8.5% to $51.55 in after-hours trading on Tuesday amid adjusted earnings of 65 cents per share on revenue of $467.6 million, missing expectations.  

“We know our potential is so much greater than our results, and we are taking significant steps to reinvigorate our record of profitable growth and value creation,” said Ritchie in a statement.