Basketball All-Star LeBron James is stepping out of the shadows with his involvement in the fast-casual pizza brand Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza, the company said Thursday.
Pasadena, Calif.-based Blaze has signed a multi-year endorsement deal with James, who will become more directly involved in marketing activities, including advertising, social media and in-store appearances. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
In what was described as a mutual decision, James has also ended his marketing relationship with McDonald’s Corp.
“We have enjoyed watching LeBron James grow from a McDonald’s All-American to a world-class champion and businessman. We greatly appreciated the exciting experiences and engagement he’s provided McDonald’s customers and his support of Ronald McDonald House Charities over the past several years. While the parties mutually decided to end the relationship, we wish him the best in his future endeavors,” Lisa McComb, McDonald’s director of media relations, said in a statement.
James was one of Blaze Pizza’s founding investors three years ago, along with former California First Lady Maria Shriver, Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and movie producer John Davis. A lead investor is investment banker Paul Wachter, founder and CEO of Main Street Advisors.
The globally-known athlete is also a franchisee of the brand in Chicago and Miami, in partnership with operator Levy Restaurants, which currently has 10 units in those markets.
“Blaze Pizza isn’t your typical pizza chain,” James said in a statement. “Their model is literally changing the future of the fast-casual industry altogether.”
“I initially invested in this company because I knew it was a special idea that offered something people would want,” he continued. “Now I’m excited to go all in with Blaze Pizza in this new role and continue to give people a whole new experience.”
Rick Wetzel, Blaze Pizza’s co-founder with his wife Elise Wetzel, told Nation’s Restaurant News that the deal does not increase James’ equity stake in the company, but the NBA icon will be more active in promoting his ties to the brand.
“Up to now, he’s never been vocal about his investment,” Wetzel said, noting that James has more than 24 million Twitter followers. “Now he’s going to start publicly helping us put a spotlight on our mission to bring better fast food.”
Blaze is the largest player within the growing fast-casual pizza niche, with 88 units in 22 states. The company expects to reach 200 units before the end of 2016.