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7 Athletes Who Own Franchises

From Shaq’s collection of Papa John’s locations to Drew Brees’ portfolio of Jimmy John’s units, here is a deep dive into the who’s who of pro athlete franchising.

Leadership, determination, teamwork, sportsmanship, wealth — these traits likely conjure the image of a professional athlete. But they could also translate to a different kind of champion: franchisees. The two career paths of franchising and pro sports require a similar passion, a goal-oriented mindset, a willingness to follow a playbook and a need to control one’s own destiny. So, it's only natural that so many professional athletes end up on the franchise field. 

According to a study by the RBC Sports Professionals group, professional athletes, on average, retire at the age of 30, and, according to another study by Sports Illustrated, 60% of NBA players go broke after leaving the game. That is why former pros often look at diversifying their portfolio with a proven, reliable investment like a franchise as an excellent post-retirement career. 

Here are seven athletes who became as successful as franchisees as they were as athletes.

Peyton Manning


This former National Football League star quarterback pivoted from the field to the pizza kitchen with his investment in Papa John’s. He owned 31 Denver-area Papa John’s Pizza sites from 2012 until 2018. “It’s a smart investment now and will be long after I’m done playing football,” Manning told the news media when initially revealing his franchise ownership.

During his time as a Papa John’s multi-unit franchisee, Manning became a big spokesman for the franchise and appeared in several television commercials where he asked others to join him in becoming a franchise owner. The NFL also had close ties with Papa John’s at the time, forming a partnership that began in 2010.

In early 2018, Manning sold off all of his Papa John’s stores suddenly. Only two days later, the NFL and Papa John’s divorced. It is unclear the exact reasoning behind the split, but considering the controversy Papa John’s founder John Schnatter was eliciting at the time, it is perhaps not surprising the NFL decided to cozy up next to Pizza Hut instead. 

Earvin "Magic" Johnson


This 12-time All-Star, five-time NBA champion and three-time MVP for the Los Angeles Lakers launched Magic Johnson Enterprises, his investment firm, in 1989. Since then, the firm has owned multiple franchises, including Burger King24-Hour Fitness and TGI Fridays. Johnson also held a stake in 105 Starbucks cafes, which he sold back to the company in 2010. 

With an estimated net worth of $600 million, he’s arguably the most successful athlete-turned-businessperson of all time. Johnson pays that success forward through his investment firm as well, investing in companies that provide products and services that focus primarily on ethnically diverse and underserved urban communities.

Shaquille O’Neal

Big Chicken

When it comes to what inspired this NBA Hall of Famer to a life of franchising, he actually cites the advice of someone else on this list. “I learned from the great Magic Johnson that it’s okay to be a basketball star, but at some point you want to start investing in businesses,” O’Neal told CNBC during the 2022 International Franchise Association conference in San Diego.

Today, much of O’Neal’s $400 million net worth is tied up in franchising, with a portfolio almost as big as the powerhouse himself. He has owned 155 Five Guys establishments, which represented 10% of the total company at the time, 17 Auntie Anne’s Pretzels restaurants, nine Papa John’s restaurants, a “few” Krispy Kremes, 150 car washes, 40 24-Hour Fitness gyms and a movie theater in his native Newark. 

O’Neal has also explored the franchisor role. In 2018, he founded the chicken sandwich brand Big Chicken. Since franchising the concept last year, he has already sold 200 units. And he’s taken the franchisor role seriously — he was involved in all aspects of building out the Big Chicken franchise, from naming the chicken sandwiches after people he admires, like the “Charles Barkley” to the sourcing of the supply chain.

All that hard work has paid off. O’Neal said he makes more annually from his business investments than he did from his $30 million-a-year basketball paycheck.

Drew Brees 


This 13-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion retired as the New Orleans Saints quarterback in 2021 and worked in NBC’s broadcast booth during the 2021-2022 season. Over the years, he has also made a name for himself in the franchise industry thanks to his wide-ranging portfolio of franchise investments, which includes Jimmy John’sDunkinFive Guys, and Stretch Zone, among others. 

Brees is also co-owner and partner at Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar, an up-and-coming restaurant franchise with over 100 locations in the works across 15 states. The concept was ranked the No. 1 new franchise concept by Entrepreneur in 2020. 

With an estimated net worth of $120 million, it's safe to say Brees’ retirement will be, well, a Brees. 

Kris Brown

This former NFL star retired almost a decade ago, and since then, he’s honed in on a new goal: franchising. Particularly with Dunkin', a franchise in which he owns territorial rights for the markets of both Kansas City and Omaha.

"Going from sports to franchising was a natural transition," he told INSIDER. "There are a lot of qualities you must have to succeed as an athlete. You have to know how to work and work hard, but running a franchise is really about following the operational manual, which tells you, 'This is how to run the business.'"

Brown is currently the owner and CEO of the Berliner Group, a franchisee group that owns 12 Dunkin' shops throughout the Midwest, with a total of 21 stores set to open.

Adrian Gonzalez 


This MLB legend played for the Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, making five All-Star teams and winning four Gold Gloves between 2004 and 2018.

In 2018, Gonzalez joined the Jersey Mike’s Subs team as the owner of six franchise locations in San Diego County, where he once played. According to Forbes, Gonzalez had 11 Jersey Mike’s locations as of November 2020.

“Coming up in the baseball world, subs were a big part of our meals,” said Gonzalez. “The first time I tried Jersey Mike’s, I told my wife it was such a good sub, she had to try it. I love the fresh ingredients and how everything is sliced right in front of you. Everyone agrees Jersey Mike’s is a top sub sandwich enterprise.”

Angelo Crowell

Jersey Mike’s

This former NFL linebacker is another athlete who is going all in on Jersey Mike’s. Crowell currently owns 15 Jersey Mike's locations, with another 14 in development. The first one he opened, near the Florida State University campus, ended up being the most successful grand opening in the brand’s history.

"My brother asked me what I would do if football ended today. I didn't have an answer for him," Crowell told INSIDER. "He told me I needed to get an answer and start working on my transition plan — now. That conversation started my thought process on what my next step would be when the game ended. When I started looking into franchising, the franchise models that were hot at the time were not going the way of the world. People were wanting healthier and fresher. I was already a fan of Jersey Mike's, and once I understood the business model, it just connected for us."

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