For many professional athletes, restaurant franchising has been the path to lifelong financial stability once the final whistle blows on their playing days, and the most recent franchise deal between Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Papa John's Pizza shows how high-profile athletes are becoming more outspoken in their enthusiasm for the industry.
For every superstar of Manning's caliber with the ability to acquire dozens of operating restaurants, there are also several pro athletes who have saved enough money from their sports careers to finance a handful of locations in the hopes of building a larger company, as former pro-basketball player Junior Bridgeman has done.
Industry professionals hope both types of athlete operators increase their participation in foodservice, and the International Franchise Association has sought to formalize this kind of activity through the Professional Athlete Franchise Initiative, which began in 2010. The IFA has been active in connecting franchisors and retired athletes at its convention and other events, including a panel presentation this past February, where former National Basketball Association star Jamal Mashburn shared his experience as a franchisee with Papa John's and Dunkin' Donuts.
Often the professional sports leagues will facilitate networking between restaurant brands and their players, as the National Football League did with former offensive lineman Brandon Gorin, now a Marco's Pizza franchisee, and several others.
Regardless of how they are drafted to operate with their new brands, current and retired athletes have stepped up their investment in the restaurant industry. The following franchisees are some of the industry's most famous and successful players to date.