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Shaquille O’Neal: Papa John’s New Ambassador

Papa John's, rated America’s number one pizza company, is about to get a facelift as part of an attempt to recover from a scandal back in 2018 that caused a dent in the pizza company’s reputation and its stocks to drop. After a heartfelt apology, accountability, and a plan of action from CEO Steve Ritchie on behalf of his company, an action that was much applauded by critics and consumers, the pizza company sets forth in 2019 with a surprising announcement. Former NBA basketball player and Hall of Fame athlete, Shaquille O’Neal, will be joining the Louisville based pizza chain as an investor, a new member of its board of directors, a brand ambassador, and an owner of nine franchise locations in Atlanta.

Papa John's is the third-largest pizza company in the world and has been named as the best pizza company in America on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Led by CEO Steve Ritchie, who has been in the company for 22 years, the international pizza company owns over 4,000 stores and employs over 100,000 employees around the world. After the scandal in 2018, Ritchie announced a plan of action that includes developing minority-owned franchise locations and improving the communities of its workers. Ritchie reaffirmed the company’s commitment to building a better culture where pizza can bring people closer.

O’Neal’s involvement with the pizza chain came after working with Ritchie on Shaq’s Fun House, a company-sponsored event during the 2019 Super Bowl event. Prior to this unexpected announcement, O’Neal already had ample experience owning and managing multiple restaurant franchises. In 2016, O’Neal purchased a Krispy Kreme franchise location in Atlanta. In 2018, O’Neal founded Big Chicken in Las Vegas. In 2019, Shaquille’s, also founded by O’Neal, was opened in Los Angeles. Each of these businesses is still running successfully. O’Neal had also once owned 27 Five Guys franchises. When asked about how he chooses his businesses, O’Neal stated that he only works with food he enjoys eating and brands he trusts.

When Steve Ritchie mentioned to O’Neal about his company’s big changes during their meeting at the Super Bowl, O’Neal jumped to be onboard a brand he believes in and said he’d be interested in being a spokesperson for the brand. Further talks increased interest from both sides and finally led to the pizza chain’s announcement on March 2019 of O’Neal’s new roles in the company. While things moved rapidly at headquarters with concepts to be planned and commercials set to be released late 2019, renovations for O’Neal’s first franchise location in Atlanta are completed and O’Neal’s new pizza restaurant is open for business. As part of the new menu will be the soon to be released “Shaq-aroni,” an extra-large pizza named by O’Neal that was used for Shaq’s Fun House early 2019 during the Super Bowl.

As O’Neal’s new franchise locations are renovated and opened one after another throughout this year, the pizza chain will continue with its push to revamp its brand to move the company forward past the incident in 2018. Amongst its agenda are leadership diversity, development of minority-owned franchise locations, and improved outreach in their employee’s work and home communities. Shares of Papa John’s has increased over 5% since the announcement, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

O’Neal’s energetic and vibrant personality seems a perfect fit for the image Papa John's is searching for to revamp the brand, improve their current menu, and empower the employees. Ritchie indicated that many more improvements and changes are coming as they try to reclaim their number one spot as America’s favorite pizza company.

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