University of Louisville drops Papa John's from stadium name

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Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is being renamed Cardinal Stadium.
Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is being renamed Cardinal Stadium. Credit: University of Louisville

The University of Louisville has joined the list of entities taking big stands against Papa John's founder John Schnatter's use of the "n"-word: It announced that its football stadium, Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, will be dropping "Papa John's" from the name, and that Schnatter's name will be scrubbed from the business school's John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise.

Schnatter used the racial slur in a May conference call with its then-agency Laundry Service. The shop resigned the account. A report of the call came out Wednesday morning, and by day's end Schnatter had resigned as chairman of the board (where he remains a member). Papa John's then announced it was cutting Schnatter, once the face of the brand, from all marketing.

In a radio interview on Friday, Schnatter said he had been pushed to use the "n"-word in a media training call with Laundry Service. The agency declined to comment on Schnatter's remarks on the radio.

Schnatter has long supported the University of Louisville with millions of dollars in donations. The football stadium opened in 1998 as Papa John's Cardinal Stadium thanks to money from Schnatter and the Louisville-based pizza chain he founded. It's the latest loss of football exposure for the brand, which ended its sponsorship of the NFL in February after Schnatter had suggested that its sales were being dragged down by the NFL's response to players kneeling during the national anthem.

University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi said Friday that the school community "has been fractured by the comments made by former UofL trustee John Schnatter." (Schnatter resigned from the school's board of trustees Wednesday.)

Papa John's ads that were part of the naming rights deal will be removed. For now, however, there are no plans to remove Papa John's concessions from the stadium, a university spokesman said Friday.

Many of the university's students and supporters were pushing the school to further sever ties to Schnatter.

Tying a brand so closely to one person has its risks, and with Papa John's the ties ran particularly deep. Until recently Schnatter appeared in much of Papa John's marketing.

"I really hope each of us distinguishes between the individual and the company," Bendapudi said on Friday. "At this point I think the Cardinal Stadium name is what we need."

Entities in Schnatter's home state of Indiana are also exploring whether to end relationships with the founder, as the Indianapolis Star and other local press have reported.

Even before this week's news, Papa John's North American same-store sales had fallen for two consecutive quarters, its first quarterly drops since 2010.

The University of Louisville posted a video of Bendapudi's remarks online.

On Friday afternoon, CEO Steve Ritchie finally began addressing how Papa John's is addressing the controversy and echoed the company's earlier comments, saying in a statement that Schnatter would no longer be in any advertising or marketing materials associated with the brand.

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