Papa John's owner claims the ongoing NFL kneeling protests have hurt sales Wednesday. The company is "disappointed" that the issues have not been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved.

"The NFL has hurt us, more importantly, by not resolving the current debacle to the players' and owners' satisfaction," John Schnatter, the company's founder and CEO, said in a press conference call Wednesday. "NFL leadership has hurt Papa John's shareholders."

Schnatter added, "This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago. Like many sponsors, we're in touch with the NFL. Once the issue is resolved between the players and the owners, we're optimistic the NFL's best years are ahead....Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership." 

The pizza maker has served as the official pizza company of the NFL since 2010, in addition to having a deal with 23 individual teams. Shares of the company fell to nearly 10 percent, according to reports. 

Papa John's executives said that much of its televised advertising was pulled because of the protests, to which the NFL responded by giving the pizza maker additional commercial spots. The company's president and chief operating officer Steve Ritchie asserted that sales would not improve unless the protests halted, saying, "we expect it to persist unless a solution is put in place." 

Ritchie also placed blame on restaurant industry competition.  

Schnatter claimed that the company's operations were impacted in markets affected by the unpredictable devastations from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the earthquake in Mexico and the California wildfires. The company intends to experiment with a variety of new initiatives to position the pizza maker for future "sustained growth." 

Papa John's growth strategy also includes improving its branding with the help of Laundry Service, a full-service marketing agency. Laundry Service has helped with branding big-name retailers like Nike and T-Mobile.

"Like Subway in recent years, Papa John's has invested in athletes to market their products," Darren Tristano, a foodservice trend expert, told CNBC Wednesday. "When athletes are at the top of their game, these investments can pay off with sales growth but when you invest in retiring players like Peyton Manning and injured players like J.J. Watt to endorse your brand, the impact can be lessened."

Tristano added, "With team parity in the NFL, ratings have fallen and marketing has become less effective for brands associating with the league."

A press representative for Papa Johns did not immediately return International Business Times' request for comment. 

Papa Johns Papa John's blames NFL protests on declined sales, pictured is Christopher Wynne, the chief executive of Papa John's franchisee, poses during an interview with Reuters in Moscow, Russia, July 21, 2017. Photo: Getty Images