Peyton Manning sold off his stake in 31 Denver-area Papa John’s locations two days before the NFL dropped the pizza chain as its official pizza sponsor.
Manning, who retired as the Denver Broncos’ quarterback after winning Super Bowl 50 two years ago, could not be reached for comment.
But Peter Collins, Papa John’s spokesman, confirmed in an email that the former Bronco had sold his stake, which was part of a joint venture with Papa John’s International after “six successful and rewarding years,” Collins said.
An existing Papa John’s franchisee who operates “a substantial number of Papa John’s locations in large markets” acquired the 31 stores, he said. The new owner plans to rehire all existing employees.
“The franchisee that purchased the market is excited about the future of our business and assumed ownership of all Papa John’s locations in the Denver, Co., market on Feb. 26, 2018,” Collins added.
It’s been a rough year for the Louisville, Ky.-based pizza chain. Founder John Schnatter stepped down as CEO in January after criticizing NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem because it hurt pizza sales. But even with a new CEO, Papa John’s lost its status as the NFL’s official pizza sponsor to competitor Pizza Hut on Feb. 28. At the time, Papa John’s said it still had marketing deals with 22 of the league’s 32 teams, according to an Associated Press report.
Manning, who picked up 21 Papa John’s franchises in Denver in 2012, remains Papa John’s celebrity spokesperson and brand ambassador as part of his long-term agreement with the brand, Collins said.