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Peyton Manning sells stake in Papa John's franchises

Pizza Hut new official NFL sponsor

Peyton Manning has sold his stake in 31 Papa John's (PZZA) franchises, although he will continue serving as a pitchman for the pizza brand.

The former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback sold his holdings in the Denver-area restaruants on Feb. 26, just before Papa John's and the National Football League pulled the plug on what had been a long-lasting corporate sponsorship.

"After six successful and rewarding years, Peyton Manning and Papa John's International have sold their stake in 31 Papa John's locations which were part of a joint-venture," the Kentucky-based chain said in an emailed statement. "Peyton remains an official Papa John's spokesperson and brand ambassador as part of his long-term agreement with the brand."

The NFL and Yum Brand (YUM) announced in February that Pizza Hut will replace Papa John's as the league's official corporate sponsor. Papa John's said it will focus instead on local partnerships with 22 of the NFL's 32 teams.

The NFL's official sponsor since 2010, Papa John's likely did not endear itself to the league when founder John Schnatter last year blamed the company's decline in sales on a protest by NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem. 

Papa John's founder to step down as CEO

"NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders," Schnatter said in a November earnings call with analysts. "This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago."

Papa John's last week reported fourth-quarter earnings below Wall Street expectations.

Ousted as CEO in January, Schnatter remains on Papa John's board of directors.