LeBron James is once again jumping ship from one team to another, but this time he’s signing with Blaze Pizza.
James, who had previously been endorsed by fast food giant McDonald’s, will be the official spokesperson for Blaze Pizza, self-described as “fast-fired, custom-built, artisanal pizza.” As Business Insider reports, James had already invested in Blaze Pizza financially, from its very beginning. He believes in the fast-casual pizza chain so much that he felt it was time to step up his game. Being a silent Blaze Pizza investor just won’t cut it anymore.
Blaze Pizza co-founder Rick Wetzel hopes LeBron can help grow Blaze Pizza from the regional specialty chain it is now, beyond the fast-casual dining leader, Chipotle, to become as common an establishment as Starbuck’s Coffee.
If those are the goals that LeBron James and Rick Wetzel have for Blaze Pizza, they have more work to do than the Cleveland Cavaliers pursuing their first NBA Championship.
Starbuck’s currently has over 21,000 locations worldwide. Chipolte has 1,800.
In 2014, there were 50 Blaze Pizza locations across the country. They hope to have 500 by the end of 2020.
Unlike larger pizza chains such as Pizza Hut or Domino’s, Blaze Pizza doesn’t operate in a delivery/take-out format, and you won’t find a hostess or waitress ready to take your order. Think of it as single-serving pizza constructed Subway-style. You get in line, speak with several different employees, pick a specialty pizza (or create one from scratch), watch them make it for you, and within minutes, you’ve seated yourself with your fresh-from-the-stone-hearth-oven artesan pizza.
“Until recently, your only options were the big, traditional, pizza chains or sit-down restaurants,” said Jim Mizes, president and COO of Blaze Pizza. “We wanted to build something with a modern twist that would resonate with millennials.”
Blaze Pizza isn’t the only restaurant putting the heat on places like Papa John’s and Little Caesar’s. As noted by TheStreet, other fast-casual pizza chains like PizzaRev and Pizzeria Locale have already popped up. It appears the restaurant industry knows things are about to change; Buffalo Wild Wings is a minority investor in PizzaRev and Pizzeria Locale is partnering with Chipotle.
But Blaze Pizza has one thing that PizzaRev and Pizzeria Locale — even Buffalo Wild Wings and Chipotle — don’t have: LeBron James.
According to ESPN, James owns approximately 10 percent of Blaze Pizza. As such, becoming Blaze’s spokeman could be seen as an incredibly wise, very valuable business move. Very valuable. Opendorse, a company that helps athletes and advertisers hook up for large marketing campaigns, estimated that a single LeBron James tweet is worth nearly $140,000. At $1,000 per character, having James simply send the phrase “Blaze Pizza” would be a tweet worth $11,000.
It was about time for LeBron to move on to Blaze from McDonald’s, anyway. You may recall LeBron’s slip-up earlier this year, when he told reporters that a large part of his physical change had come from no longer eating McDonald’s, before recovering and (unconvincingly) insisting that he eats at the burger joint daily. One has to wonder, however, how well Blaze Pizza would fit into the paleo-based diet that James used to cut so much weight in the summer of 2014.
New Blaze Pizza restaurants continue to pop up from coast to coast. Between now and then end of 2016, there are at least 39 new Blaze Pizza locations expected to be opened, including franchises in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Albany, the George Bush International Airport in Houston, the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, ten locations across California, and the first international location in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
[Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images]