LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville will pay Papa John’s International founder John Schnatter $9.5 million over five years to clear the way for a new naming rights deal for the university’s football stadium.
The stadium had been known as Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium until July 2018, when U of L President Neeli Bendapudi decided to remove the company’s name from the facility in the furor that followed Schnatter’s admitted use of racial language on a private phone call.
Schnatter owns the naming rights to what is now called Cardinal Stadium through 2040 as part of a series of deals that date its construction in 1990.
U of L's board of trustees and athletics association board on Thursday approved the settlement with Schnatter after a closed-door discussion about it.
Athletics director Vince Tyra told reporters that he's confident he can secure a new naming rights deal that will more than make up for the $9.5 million paid to Schnatter.
"We wouldn't have set the hurdle at a couple million dollars a year if we didn't think it was worth more than that," Tyra said.
He would not comment on potential sponsors and said he hopes the stadium will have a new name by the 2020 football season.
Tyra said he hopes to secure a shorter sponsorship -- such as 10 years -- rather than "getting into another 40-year deal."
He added that the new naming rights deal will include something that was lacking from the deal with Schnatter: a "morals" clause that would allow the university to cancel it should the sponsor come into public disrepute.
"Anytime you have more language in the agreement to think about the what-ifs you're in a better position," he said.
The stadium was partially financed with $20 million in donations from Schnatter and his former company – $14 million in personal gifts and $6 million from Papa John’s, according to agreements and extensions previously obtained by WDRB.
Only Schnatter's personal agreement with the university covered the stadium naming rights. Thursday's announcement does not change the marketing rights, tickets, suites and other considerations provided to the company through 2040 as part of its deal with U of L, which is separate from Schnatter's.
"With Papa John’s being based in Louisville and me being the single largest shareholder in the company, I’m very glad to reach the agreement today with the University of Louisville," Schnatter said in an emailed statement. "It was concluded with the best interests of the University and the students in mind. Something you can be sure of is that I will always support the community with passion, and I will always work hard to inspire others to pursue their dreams just like I was able to pursue mine right here in Louisville."
Bendapudi said last year that the university could not tolerate being associated with Schnatter -- who at that time was a university trustee -- following his use of the 'N' word.
“By taking this action, we renew our community’s commitment to speaking up when it matters, doing what is right and coming together as one team … to heal and move forward,” Bendapudi said in a July 2018 news conference.
She said Schnatter’s “hurtful and unacceptable” comments had “fractured the community.”
The university also removed Schnatter's name from a free enterprise center in its business college that Schnatter had donated $4.6 million to establish in 2015.