Shaquille O'Neal's time on the Papa Johns board is coming to an end

The former NBA player turned pitchman will not run for re-election on the board due to business commitments. But he will maintain a relationship with the pizza chain.
Papa Johns Shaq
Shaquille O'Neal has become an important spokesman for Papa Johns. | Photo courtesy of Papa Johns.

Shaquille O’Neal, whose 2019 agreement with Papa Johns helped usher in its comeback from a brutal sales slump, will not seek re-election to the pizza chain’s board, the company said on Wednesday.

The Atlanta-based pizza chain cited O’Neal’s business commitments as the reason for the decision. But Papa Johns also said that the former Los Angeles Lakers star will maintain his relationship with the company, as a restaurant owner and a “brand ambassador.”

O’Neal’s term on the board ends in May.

“Shaquille joined the board five years ago during a challenging time for the company, providing an important vote of confidence in its future potential, management team and board of directors,” Christopher Coleman, chairman of the Papa Johns board, said in a statement.

Papa Johns in 2019 was coming off a brutal controversy surrounding its founder and longtime CEO and chairman, John Schnatter, over comments he made on an earnings call and at a later internal conference call, when he used a racial slur.

Publicity over the comments hammered sales, led to closures of a number of restaurants and the end of its marketing deal with the NFL.

It also led to Schnatter’s complete exit from the company and the arrival of new investors and ultimately an overhauled management team.

O’Neal stepped into this that year, signing an $8 million deal with the pizza chain to invest in some restaurants and join the board. O’Neal is an investor in nine units in the Atlanta market and has appeared in the chain’s ads. Papa Johns also named a pepperoni-loaded pizza after its new ambassador, the Shaq-a-roni.

Papa Johns and O’Neal signed a three-year extension to that agreement in 2022.

“Papa Johns is in a much different place thanks, in part, to Shaquille’s involvement with the brand,” Papa Johns CEO Rob Lynch said in a statement. “We are supportive of his professional growth through his other business ventures and look forward to continuing to work with him through our marketing partnership and as a franchisee.”

O’Neal is “increasing the time he’s investing in new business ventures,” Papa Johns said. One of those ventures is Big Chicken, a fast-casual chain that O’Neal founded along with JRS Hospitality and Authentic Brands.

The business commitments “make it challenging to extend my board service for another term,” O’Neal said in a statement.

He said that he is “grateful for the valuable experience I gained on the Papa Johns board” and is “proud to have played a role in making the company culture into what it is today.”

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Restaurants bring the industry's concerns to Congress

Neary 600 operators made their case to lawmakers as part of the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference.


Proposed TGI Fridays sale is no home run, but has promise for both sides

The $220 million all-stock deal would get Fridays’ owner TriArtisan out of its decade-long investment and give the struggling chain a like-minded partner in franchisee Hostmore, experts say.


Podcast transcript: Virtual Dining Brands co-founder Robbie Earl

A Deeper Dive: What is the future of digital-only concepts? Earl discusses their work to ensure quality and why focusing on restaurant delivery works.


More from our partners