Papa John’s CEO Steve Ritchie Joins Forces With Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal has signed an $8.25 million deal with Papa John’s and will join their board of directors as its first African-American member, in addition to being the company’s brand ambassador.

CEO and president of Papa John’s Steve Ritchie believes O’Neal “understands how to build lasting connections with consumers and energize employees.”

With more than 120,000 employees and an estimated 5,000 stores, including 1,200 in Louisville, Papa Johns is the third-largest pizza chain in the world. They anticipate O’Neal signing a $8.25 million marketing agreement for three years with the company, to be divided between company stock and cash. It’s expected later this year that he’ll begin promotional material appearances.

Steve Ritchie, who initially met the basketball legend at an Atlanta event O’Neal threw during Super Bowl weekend, said Papa John’s was searching for a board member with restaurant experience, capable of bringing diversity and a spirit of entrepreneurship. For O’Neal’s part, his wish to become a franchisee led to his board membership.

The move, said Steve Ritchie, reflects Papa John’s ongoing efforts to evolve its culture. “One of the specific efforts was in the role of diversity, equity and inclusion.” Ritchie also noted Papa John’s executive leadership team had grown from including one woman to five (two of them African-American) in the last year.

In addition to being an analyst on television’s “Inside The NBA” and the public face of numerous companies like The General insurance, IcyHot, and Carnival Cruise Line for years, “Shaq” has industry experience as the owner and founder of Las Vegas chicken restaurant Big Chicken as well as Shaquille’s, a Los Angeles restaurant, and an Atlanta Krispy Kreme Doughnuts franchise. Becoming an investor in nine Atlanta-area Papa John’s restaurants is part of O’Neal’s new partnership.

Papa John’s board chairman Jeff Smith said O’Neal’s “excellent entrepreneurial background” proves he’s a natural at creative marketing.


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