Keep Papa John under control at UofL board meetings

John Schnatter went a couple of hours without saying a word, at least during the public portion of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees meeting this week. Not easy for someone accustomed to being treated as near royalty in his hometown. 

And it was quite a contrast from a week before when he exhibited little self control, ranting about the UofL athletic department and another expansion of Cardinal Stadium. 

One wonders why Schnatter had reason to be upset? The athletic department has bent over backward to keep the Pizza magnate happy. Setting aside a special place for him to land his helicopter during football games at Cardinal Stadium. Allowing him to race his 1971 Camaro into the complex, wheels spinning, burning rubber. The football program also allowing him to completely cover the roof of the Brown & Williamson Club with the Papa John’s logo.

Interim President Greg Postel and Chairman David Grissom have their hands full already, even without John Schnatter’s antics.

Schnatter’s demeanor during the recent board meeting makes one suspect that someone may have finally denied him one of his outlandish wishes. Some sources believe his antagonism could date back to the second phase of the stadium expansion, possibly some special concessions on the party deck. 

Schnatter’s ego apparently knows no bounds. Would anyone be surprised if his next big request had been a sculpture of Papa John on the party deck? Making a special delivery no doubt. Not out of the question. He lives in a virtual castle and he referred to the football facility as “My stadium” during the board meeting. 

The strained look on his face during the trustees’ meeting made it appear as though he had been asked to remain quiet. This at a time when the University of Louisville is in need of positive reinforcement and constructive leadership. Had to be really difficult for him to hear Interim President Greg Postel describe Tom Jurich’s great success with the athletic program and assurance that the stadium expansion is well within budget.

Someone had obviously gotten to Schnatter, letting him know that his ranting was out of line, making him look foolish, embarrassing his fellow board members. This coming a day before it was announced that Schnatter had resigned from the board of the UofL Athletic Association and had been immediately replaced by university trustee James Rogers.

A long-time member of the University community, who wishes to remain unnamed, sees the fine hand of Trustees’ Chairman J. David Grissom at work in Schnatter’s resignation.

“It is not Schnatter’s style to resign for the good of the organization,” said the source. “My guess is that Grissom took him off the board because Schnatter is unpredictable in his rhetoric. Why else would another board appointment be made so quickly?

“This may have been one reason for the closed session at the Trustees’ meeting. Grissom does not want the wrath of Tom Jurich’s many supporters. Running Tom off would be the biggest mistake made by anyone. 

“Grissom also will not tolerate any trustee speaking to the media without his approval. Remember Schnatter’s parting comment on Wednesday, words to the effect that Grissom has it under control.”

Presumably that means Grissom will not tolerate any misdirection or outbursts at future Trustee meetings, especially from John Schnatter. 

Schnatter comments embarrass UofL and Papa John’s

John Schnatter talking nonsense at University of Louisville board meeting.

John Schnatter didn’t do anyone any favors with his off-the-wall statements during the University of Louisville board of trustees’ meeting on Wednesday. Least of all himself and the business he founded.

The usually affable spokesperson for Papa John’s comes off looking like a jerk and sounding like a dolt, casting unfounded aspersions toward the UofL athletic department. He also seems to have a short memory, having been one of the most generous supporters of the stadium that bears his company’s name.

Somehow Schnatter got the notion that the UofL athletic department is being mismanaged, and that the expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is an example of bad leadership under Tom Jurich. Nevermind that athletic department is probably the most successful part of the university or that Jurich is widely regarded as one of the most effective athletic directors around. The UofL department is self-sufficient, one of the best-funded in the nation, and more than $45 million has been raised from corporate donors for the $50-plus million stadium expansion.

Yet here’s Schnatter saying, “”Until you fix athletics, you cannot fix this university. You have to fix the athletics first. I have looked at this eight ways to Sunday. You have to fix athletics first, and then the university will get in line.”

There was an issue with the basketball program and it has been addressed by the university, and more punishment will be forthcoming from the NCAA. But other than that, Schnatter’s comments make no sense. This board of trustees should be able to recognize that the athletic department is a shining example of what can happen for the entire university under the right leadership.

One suspects that Schnatter may have been unduly influenced by comments from Interim President Greg Postel during a previous meeting. Postel allegedly told Schnatter that Jurich was “invisible,” not answering to the UofL board of trustees. 

That makes no sense because Tom Jurich has always gone overboard to be open with all segments of the community, including the university. This explains in part why the athletic department has been transformed under his leadership.

Postel’s assertion is typical of university politics, with one segment being envious of a more successful unit. Happens all the time on university campuses. Maybe Postel’s real agenda is to get a piece of some of the money that the athletic program is so good at generating.

Postel, no doubt, did not expect Schnatter to quote him. If there was any possibility of Postel receiving serious consideration for the President’s job, he can forget about that possibility after Wednesday’s board meeting. He can thank John Schnatter for going off the deep end, stripping Postel of his anonymity. 

Schnatter can expect Papa John’s Pizza to take a hit in Louisville, with some fans voicing support for a boycott on local message boards on Thursday. So many choices of pizza, so easy to narrow them down.

Maybe Wednesday was just a bad day for John Schnatter, and in the future, he and Tom Jurich will some day chuckle about the episode. But first Schnatter has a lot of explaining to do. His bizarre comments had nothing to do with reality.

Despite popularity, KFC Yum! Center remains magnet for controversy

More than a little confusing some of the recent activities related to the management of the KFC Yum! Center, possibly suggesting that the community should be bracing for some unsettling news about the sparkling home of University of Louisville basketball.

First the revelation a week ago that Governor Steve Beshear wants Harold Workman fired as chief executive officer of the State Fair Board, which manages the Center. Workman, who has held the position since 1993, has generally been held in high esteem for his management of Fair Board facilities. Never a hint of mismanagement until recently, even though the losses of UofL basketball and Kentucky Kingdom were taking a toll on the Exposition Center.

Then the surprising announcement Monday that the Fair Board had fired Ted Nicholson, the general manager of the KFC Yum! Center. No reason given for the firing, the news coming as a surprise to Jim Host, the chairman of the Louisville Arena Authority. Just a few months ago, Host was describing Nicholson as the perfect individual for the position. On Tuesday, the Fair Board actually requested that Nicholson be reinstated.

None of this makes any sense and no explanations appear to be forthcoming. The only consistent thread is that the arena has been controversial from the beginning and that Jerry Abramson has been been involved in one way or another. That, and Workman was never a public target during Beshear’s first four years in office.

The KFC Yum! Center wouldn’t exist had Workman not proposed a new arena to replace Freedom Hall seven years ago. That was what finally shook then-Mayor Abramson out of his lethargy, kickstarting serious discussions of a downtown arena for UofL. Jim Ramsey and Tom Jurich wanted the arena at the Fairgrounds or on campus. There were reportedly shouting matches behind closed doors at Belknap Campus between Abramson and university officials. And we know who won that battle.

Then there was the controversy over whether to build it on the Louisville Water Company (LWC) site in the center city or on the riverfront site, which was opposed by Humana founder David Jones and Papa John’s John Schnatter, openly rejecting Abramson’s choice, arguing that the LWC site was more feasible. They were joined by House Speaker Larry Clark, from Louisville, a long-time obstructionist when it comes to UofL projects. However, Senate Chairman David Williams miraculously supported the riverfront site and was instrumental in removing the final Frankfort obstacle.

The most plausible explanation for the current personnel controversies is that Abramson is using his new leverage as Lieutenant Governor to settle some old scores. While Abramson has always been good at garnering votes, he was never popular with many business owners or city employees.

The new arena has made possible new attendance records for both UofL men’s and women’s basketball games. This, plus all the sold-out big name concerts, has generated new levels of activity downtown. However, anticipated revenues from the special taxing district are falling short of expectations. We’re also awaiting word on whether the arena was able to deliver on Jim Host’s projection of $500,000 to $1.2 million in profit during the arena’s first full year of operation.

A financial report should be forthcoming soon. We wouldn’t be surprised if the connections behind the personnel controversies become less vague. A setting up of fall guys has begun for some reason.

Papa John’s Special For Louisville Fans

Hit a half court shot, deliver more than 18,800 free pizzas for University of Louisville basketball fans. That’s exactly what John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s Pizza, did at the half of a recent game against Oral Roberts.

The halftime entertainment was being videotaped for a future commercial that should be mandatory on every Papa John’s-sponsored televised basketball game this season.

Schnatter and Papa John’s have been very good to U of L fans, with the football stadium bearing the company’s name. His family also contributed $10 million for the stadium expansion, which will increase seating capacity to more than 56,000 next season.

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The Lady Cards attempt to rebound from two humiliating losses to Southeastern Conference teams at New Hampshire Tuesday evening. Too bad for New Hampshire, its nickname is Wildcats.  See Sonja’s preview here.


Name The Downtown Arena

The chairman of the Louisville Arena Authority reports that the group is closing in on naming rights for the new downtown arena, with three companies currently vying for the honor. Jim Host expressed confidence after Monday’s meeting that the authority can get $40 million over 20 years for the rights.

The parties involved in those negotiations have been a closely guarded secret. This allows for a lot of idle speculation on the part of greatly interested fans. Which company will have its name on the University of Louisville basketball palace, the future crown jewel of college basketball kingdom? On what will be the most prominent feature in the city’s skyline, their identity becoming an integral part of the community’s identity, featured indefinitely in pictorial atlases around the world? A few guesses:

United Parcel Service — The UPS folks love Louisville and especially the University of Louisville for creating tailored educational opportunities for their employees. Executives of the city’s largest employer also say they think the city is the ideal location for its major shipping hub. The company has already indicated that it will make a major contribution to the football stadium expansion, the extent of which has yet to be announced. The only drawback is the company’s corporate color is brown. Much creativity would be required to mesh brown with red and black.

YUM — Yum is the world’s largest restaurant company with nearly 36,000 establishments in 110 countries and territories. The corporate headquarters are based in Louisville. They have good relations with UofL, having already ponied up millions for Rick Pitino’s luxury-laden basketball practice facility on Floyd Street. One would hope, however, that the idea for a Kentucky Fried Chicken Bucket has been put on the back burner and relegated to the trash heap. There should be no confusion about whether this is a Louisville or Kentucky facility. We can live with Yum.

Papa John’s — Yeah, Papa John Schnatter withdrew his money for a downtown arena a while back but he could be having second thoughts. He could probably see the new arena from the location in Jeffersonville where he started his pizza empire as a young entrepreneur in a broom closet. Having the company’s name on the university’s two most prominent athletic facilities would make him one of the community’s most beloved civic leaders. We hear he’s back as the CEO, and he could make a little extra money in one of the world’s largest pizza houses.

Brown-Forman — A better name would be the Owsley Brown Frazier Arena for the former chairman of the company which has invested heavily in the community for decades. Frazier has probably personally donated almost as much as the company has over the years. Companies usually like to promote themselves or their products so he would probably demur.  But if anyone deserves to have their name featured so prominently on the city’s skyline, it is Owsley Brown Frazier.

Which companies do you think are negotiating for the rights? What name would you like to see on the new downtown arena?

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