NFL

Manning buying 21 Denver pizza stores

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DENVER (AP)

Now Broncos fans can call the audibles while Peyton Manning cheers them on.

Pepperoni! No, make that sausage!

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Manning became the newest franchisee for Papa John's pizza, signing a deal to own 21 stores in the Denver area Friday, the same day the pizza maker also announced it had signed a multi-year contract to continue as the official pizza of the NFL and the Super Bowl. Terms were not disclosed.

''He's the kind of partner we're looking for, not only in marketing but in business,'' said Papa John's chief marketing officer, Andrew Varga.

Manning connected with Papa John's for a promotion at the 2011 Super Bowl and has since been featured in commercials with founder and CEO John Schnatter. The most recent ad shows the quarterback goading Schnatter into offering a total of 2 million free pizzas to fans who win weekly drawings, doubling the number of freebies the CEO gave away last year.

During Sunday's game between the Broncos and Saints, Manning will star in a new commercial stating that, as a new franchisee, he, too, now gets to give away free pizzas. He also gives fans information about how to join him in becoming a franchise owner.

''It's a smart investment now and will be long after I'm done playing football,'' Manning said.

With his quick wit and clean off-the-field reputation, Manning has long been considered one of the top pitchmen in sports. The spoof he did of himself in a send-up of a United Way commercial on ''Saturday Night Live'' is a classic.

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Papa John's has spent the last decade or so solidifying its sports connections. It's the title sponsor of the football stadium at University of Louisville. It also had its name on the college bowl game held in Birmingham, Ala., from 2006-2011.

The company signed with the NFL in 2010 and has been expanding the partnership since then.

Now, it has Manning as its No. 1 pitchman.

''The pizza category is fun. Our founder has fun when he gets into the commercials,'' Varga said. ''You throw Peyton into that mix with the NFL platform and it makes it easy to execute lighthearted commercials that are very much in character for both.''

Tagged: Broncos, Peyton Manning

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