Papa John’s, the Official Pizza Sponsor of the NFL, signed a new “franchise player” for the brand, announcing Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning as its newest franchisee.

Manning, in partnership with Papa John’s, will own 21 restaurants in the Denver area.

“Customers and franchisees place a premium on quality, and that’s where Papa John’s competes and wins—in our products and how we operate our business with franchisees and partners,” says John Schnatter, founder, chairman, and CEO. “I don’t know of a person or business partner who has a higher standard on quality or competes more fiercely than Peyton Manning—on and off the field. Having Peyton as a franchisee is a huge win for our brand, especially for our customers in Denver, where our business has never been better.”

Manning says, “I’ve been a fan of Papa John’s pizza for a long time, and now knowing John Schnatter, his team, and the business intimately over the past year, I am thrilled to formally join Papa John’s as a franchisee in partnership with the brand.

“It’s a smart investment now and will be long after I’m done playing football,” he says. “I’m particularly impressed by John’s drive to make everything about Papa John’s better, along with his ambition and plan to continue growing the brand around the world. Also, Papa John’s being the Official Pizza of the Denver Broncos makes this even more exciting.”

Papa John’s has locations in 32 countries on five continents and, in September, opened its 4,000th restaurant.

The brand also recently unveiled its 2013 franchise development incentive program, which, effective immediately, includes zero franchise fee, 0 percent royalty for 18 months, and $50,000 in restaurant equipment for new restaurants opened through 2013.

Papa John’s growth, despite ongoing economic pressures and uncertainty, is a result of its never-ending commitment to quality, Schnatter says.

Manning’s involvement with Papa John’s dates to 2011, when he was featured in Papa John’s efforts to market its novel Super Bowl XLVI Coin Toss Experience, in which Papa John’s awarded a free pizza and 2-liter Pepsi MAX to all members of its Papa Rewards online customer loyalty program after America correctly called the coin toss for Super Bowl XLVI.

Manning and Schnatter kicked off the 2012 NFL regular season where they left off at Super Bowl XLVI by offering all of America the chance to win another free large one-topping pizza.

Featured in national television ads, Manning convinced Schnatter to give away 2 million large one-topping pizzas to Papa Rewards members throughout the regular season—double the number of pizzas Papa John’s gave away last regular season.

Current Papa Rewards members and those who enroll on Papa John’s website have the chance to be randomly selected to receive one of the 120,000 free large one-topping pizzas each week of the NFL regular season.

Consumers must be members of Papa Rewards by midnight of the “Sunday Night Football” game on NBC-TV to be eligible for that week’s drawing. Winners are notified that they won a free pizza each Thursday via e-mail. The free pizza is awarded in the form of a unique, one-time use code redeemable online. The code is valid for approximately three weeks.

Manning will tout his status as a Papa John’s franchisee on camera Sunday night during his appearance in a custom integration on NBC TV’s “Football Night In America” telecast, when he and Schnatter will unveil for fans another “big treat” for Halloween during NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” telecast from Denver.

Papa John’s is in the third year of a multiyear sponsorship with the NFL and is also the Official Pizza of the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, and Washington Redskins. 

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Growth, News, Pizza, Papa Johns