History has shown that the right celebrity endorsement can potentially lead to big investment returns. The most notable recent example was Oprah Winfrey's investment in Weight Watchers International (WW -9.00%) in 2015.
Oprah invested $43 million in the company (now known as WW International) when the stock was in the mid single digits. Over the next three years, Weight Watchers skyrocketed, reaching over $100 per share this summer, before plummeting back down to roughly $20. Though the stock has crashed over the past nine months, the case study shows the power that a well-loved celebrity can exert on a business, especially when that celebrity is also an investor and board member.
Now, former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal is hoping to "pull an Oprah" for Papa John's International (PZZA -2.30%). Like WW at the time of Oprah's investment, Papa John's has lost its way. Founder John Schnatter resigned as CEO in late 2017 after criticizing the NFL's handling of player protests, blaming the controversy for Papa John's slow sales. Then in 2018, Schnatter was forced to resign as chairman after a business conference call in which he used a racial slur. Papa John's sales declined, and the stock is down about 50% from its all-time highs set back in late 2016.
Enter Shaq, who now positions himself to benefit from a potential Papa John's turnaround. Here are the delicious details behind Shaq's Papa John's deal.
Shaq gets a roster spot
As part of the deal, the Shaq attack will not only become the company's official spokesperson, but will also get a board seat -- expanding the new Papa John's board to 12 members. Beyond a standard board salary, Shaq will be paid $8.25 million over three years -- half in cash, and half in Papa John's stock. So, while it may not quite measure up to an NBA All-Star salary, Shaq will still be pulling down quite a haul.
Shaq is putting his money where his mouth is (literally). Beyond the shares he'll receive, Shaq will also invest in nine Atlanta-area franchises previously owned by the company. He will pay $840,000 for a 30% stake in the nine restaurants, with the company retaining 70% ownership.
Shaq has experience with restaurants and franchises. He currently owns a Krispy Kreme (KKD) franchise in Atlanta, and previously owned 27 Five Guys burger restaurants. He also owns Big Chicken, a fast-casual fried chicken restaurant in Las Vegas, and Shaquille's restaurant in downtown Los Angeles near the L.A. Live entertainment center.
Shaq knows his food, it seems.
Not just a board member, but also a client
In interview with TheStreet, Shaq said that he has long been a fan of Papa John's, and that he only endorses products he likes and buys himself:
They're under new management. Jeff Smith. Steve Ritchie. And I always wanted to be a franchise. I fell in love with Papa John's in 1989. Great quality, great ingredients. Last year, what they went through was very sad. I feel for the 120,000 team members. I feel for the franchisees. Pizza is fun, and I'm in the fun business. People love pizza, and pizza loves everyone.
Shaq's venture with Papa John's actually bears a lot of similarity to Oprah's at Weight Watchers. Both love the product, both got a seat on the board of directors, and both have a financial stake in the respective companies.
Shaq has teammates to help revive Papa John's
The bad news for Papa John's shareholders is that the company is in quite a pickle. Papa John's comparable-store sales were down 8.1% in the fourth quarter and 7.3% for the full year in 2018. The good news is that the company now has a dedicated team trying to right the ship.
Besides Shaq's involvement, the company recently received a $200 million investment from Starboard Value LP, an activist investor, and Starboard's CEO Jeff Smith will become chairman of the new company. In addition, the chain has a 21-year veteran of the company in Steve Ritchie as its new CEO. Ritchie started as a customer service rep at $6 per hour in the 90s, eventually became a franchise owner, then COO, and now CEO.
Meanwhile, Schnatter resigned from the board entirely after a short battle for control of the company, though he was able to select a mutually agreeable replacement. While Schnatter still owns 31% of the company, Papa John's seems to finally have made a full break from the past, with an incentivized new team in place.
For those looking for a turnaround candidate in a pricey market, Papa John's is certainly an interesting situation to monitor...especially with Shaq on its side.