Now, after nearly 27 years of hard, grueling, unsexy professional work as an NBA superstar (on and off the court), he’s finally doing what he was born to do.
Papa John’s announced on Friday that Shaquille O’Neal will take a seat as a board member and become the new face of the beleaguered brand, in hopes that the hall-of-famer can rejuve the struggling pizza chain’s image.
Pizza baked in controversy
Papa John’s has tried everything to wipe the cheesy stink of its founder, “Papa” John Schnatter, off its pizza-smeared face since 2017 when he first delivered a piping hot controversy pie.
First, he blamed disappointing sales on the NFL’s “poor” response to protests against police brutality (at the time, PJ’s was the NFL’s official pizza partner) — tanking stock 11%.
Then, the cheese really bubbled after a group of white nationalists got mixed into the dough, deeming PJ’s ’za “the official pizza of the alt-right.”
Papa John’s tried to let the bad press cool, but Schnatter really burnt the crust in May 2018 after using a racial epithet on an earnings call.
Schnatter was forced to resign from his role as chairman in July, but not before the company’s North American sales took a 7.3% nosedive in 2018 — with Papa John’s stock down 12% over the last year.
More than just a pretty face
Shaq has incredibly well-developed business acumen in the restaurant biz: He currently owns a Krispy Kreme franchise in Atlanta, a fried chicken restaurant in Vegas, and a Los Angeles fine dining establishment called “Shaquille’s” (he also previously owned 27 Five Guys franchises).
O’Neal, who initially approached Papa John’s, will serve as the board’s first African American director, as well as an investor in 9 Papa John’s restaurants around Atlanta.
The 3-year endorsement deal will net him $8.25m, paid half in cash and half in Papa John’s stock. That’s on top of the $5.8m on reimaging costs that the chain spent last year… Also, I am Kazaam.