U.S. pizza firm hopes to score with National Basketball Association star Shaquille O'Neal

Roman Schwartz
March 23, 2019

Papa John's International Inc. says it will pay O'Neal more than $8 million in cash and company stock for a three-year endorsement deal. O'Neal will also invest in nine Papa John's stores in Atlanta and become an ambassador for the brand in advertisements.

"Shaquille has an excellent entrepreneurial background, including as a restaurant franchise owner, and is a natural creative marketer", said the Papa John's board of directors' chairman Jeff Smith, per CNN.

O'Neal owns or previously owned a Krispy Kreme franchise, 27 Five Guys locations, a fried chicken joint in Las Vegas called Big Chicken and a Los Angeles restaurant with his own name, Shaquille's.

"In addition to his business acumen, Shaquille understands how to build lasting connections with consumers and energize employees", Papa John's CEO Steve Ritchie said in a statement.

After earning more than $286 million in salary alone during his 19-year career, O'Neal became an investor and an National Basketball Association analyst on TNT's "Inside the National Basketball Association".

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The announcement comes after the pizza franchise weathered a public relations storm a year ago when the founder, Schnatter dropped the n-word during a conference call. "This is a triple threat opportunity for me". Schnatter stepped down as chairman of the Papa John's board last summer but still holds approximately 30 percent of the company's shares and has been feuding with the chain over control.

Shaquille O'Neal announced Friday that he will be the company's first African-American board member. Because Schnatter served as the face of the brand for years in commercials and on marketing materials, the company also worked to scrub his likeness from the nation-wide franchise.

Papa John's stock price was up 6% Friday morning to nearly $50 a share, although still down from a high of $87 at the end of 2016.

A followup investigative report from Forbes in 2018 alleged more misconduct, accusing Schnatter of fostering a "bro" culture at Papa John's, where women were often the target of sexual harassment.

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