Shaq’s Your Papa: Will ‘Shaq-eroni’ O’Neal Investment Help Papa John’s Brand?
Sunday, March 24, 2019 at 05:48PM in Finances, NBA, Papa John's, Shaquille O'Neal, finances, sports marketing

By Barry Janoff

March 23, 2019: Embattled pizza chain Papa John’s needs some good news, and this might be it.

Shaquille O’Neal, NBA Hall of Famer, Turner Sports hoops analyst and businessman, has joined the company as an investor, member of the board of directors and will enter into a marketing agreement to be an ambassador for the Papa John’s brand.

O’Neal, who said he approached the company about forging a deal, said he would be an investor in nine franchises in the Atlanta area.

O’Neal will have a three-year endorsement deal valued at $8.25 million, paid half in cash and half in Papa John's stock, according to CNBC

“I have truly enjoyed the high-quality of Papa John’s product for years and am excited to be able to help Papa John’s raise their game to new heights,” O’Neal said via the company.

“This is a triple threat opportunity for me. I am excited to join the board and to help lead from the top, while also investing in nine stores in my home town of Atlanta and being an ambassador for the brand."

O’Neal doesn’t have to work too hard to reach a mass audience. He has more than six million followers on Facebook, 11.1 million on Instagram, more than 14.7 million on Twitter.

Papa John’s has had a challenging time since November 2017.

At the time an official NFL partner, Papa John’s company founder and then-CEO John Schnatter said during a media conference call that NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem before games led to lower NFL TV ratings, which in turn contributed to Papa John’s suffering lower sales and having to predict a lower profit forecast. Its stock dropped 11% in Q3 2017.

“The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction,” Schnatter said during the conference call. “The NFL has hurt Papa John’s shareholders . . . This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”

The actual correlation between players kneeling and Papa John’s finances was never shown.

In December 2017, the company promoted Steve Ritchie from president and COO to CEO, effective Jan. 1, replacing Schnatter, who become chairman.

In February 2018, Papa John’s and the NFL ended their official alliance, with the league quickly signing Pizza Hut to fill the category.

In May 2018, Schnatter used racially offensive language during a conference call. He resigned as chairman in July 2018 but remained a member of the board.

Earlier this month, following a legal and financial battle between Papa John’s and Schnatter, Schnatter resigned from the board.

"As I think about all of the stuff that went on, I worry about the 800 franchisees who did nothing wrong,” O’Neal told CNBC.

O’Neal is not alone in the NBA-pizza category. LeBron James is an investor in pizza chain Blaze.

Pizza Hut is the No. 4 pizza chain in the U.S. in terms of gross sales (nearly $3.7 billion), behind Domino’s ($12.3 billion), Pizza Hut ($12 billion) and Little Caesars ($4 billion).

According to Jeff Smith, chairman of the Papa John’s board of directors, “Shaquille has an excellent entrepreneurial background, including as a restaurant franchise owner, and is a natural creative marketer.

“Shaquille has demonstrated great success through understanding the customer value proposition with product and brand differentiation. The board and I are excited to work with Shaquille and look forward to the terrific possibilities to strengthen our position together.”

Included on his business portfolio, O'Neal currently owns a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts franchise in Atlanta; is the founder and owner of Big Chicken, a fast-casual fried chicken restaurant in Las Vegas, and Shaquille’s, a fine dining restaurant in Los Angeles; is a minority owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings; and is a commentator and analyst for Turner Sports’ coverage of the NBA.

His endorsement deals include Carnival Cruise Line, Gold Bond, Icy Hot, National General Insurance and Ring home security, the latter of which he invested in when the company was in start-up mode.

The company was acquired for $1 billion by Amazon last March.

“One key component of my success is only investing in companies and products that I believe in — I’m a big fan of Papa John’s,” Shaq wrote in a post on the company’s Web site.

“I love that they are committed to making pizza with high-quality ingredients – something I got to see firsthand when I met CEO Steve Ritchie and made my own pizza called the 'Shaq-eroni' earlier this year as part of the Shaq’s Fun House Event in Atlanta.

"Beyond the taste, Steve was able to help me understand what truly makes the Papa John’s family so special — great people, fresh ingredients and the vision for the brand going forward. Steve sounded like a player preparing for a big game — his passion for the company and its people is authentic and exciting.”

NFL, Papa John’s Slice, Dice Alliance, New Category Partner Ready To Take Order

Back to Home Page

Article originally appeared on (
See website for complete article licensing information.