NC trend: Bojangles cooks up a plan to pay athletes

 In October 2021

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A month after the NCAA began allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, Bojangles introduced its Bo’s Chicken Sandwich, billed as a “Cluckin’ Good” entreé to compete with rivals’ similar sandwiches. The Charlotte-headquartered fast-food chain was quick to enlist college student-athletes in its 14-state footprint to promote the sandwich.

Bojangles is paying male and female athletes across a variety of sports to post a photo of themselves taking a bite of the sandwich, encouraging followers to high-tail it to Bo’s.

“It took about five minutes to figure out this is something we need to deepen our relationship with (Bojangles) fans and with college sports fans,” says Jackie Woodward, chief brand and marketing officer. “It was really a no-brainer.”

As of August, 75 student-athletes were on Bojangles’ payroll, including 22 attending 13 North Carolina universities. UNC Chapel Hill quarterback Sam Howell, a Union County native who is considered a likely pro football star, is one of two Tar Heels promoting Bojangles. The other is Beau Corrales, a football wide receiver whose Twitter (5,600 followers) and Instagram (nearly 14,000 followers) handle is beau_jangles12. Howell has more than 20,000 Twitter followers and nearly 61,000 on Instagram.

Source: Bojangles

“With social media, something they are doing already, there’s a natural extension,” says Woodward. She would not reveal the financial arrangements with the athletes.

Not that long ago, such deals put the athletes and colleges in probation jeopardy. But paying student-athletes for services became legal for NCAA athletes on July 1. The athletic group wasn’t happy about name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation in various states that superseded its bylaws, but it relented and agreed to rules that apply across each member institution.

North Carolina hasn’t enacted NIL legislation. Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order setting various guidelines, though that was not necessary for student-athletes to participate. The order says athletes can’t make NIL deals with companies that are “antithetical to the values of the institution.”

In North Carolina and others without a state law governing NIL, no one including university officials knows how many student-athletes have signed with sponsors. “None of the [laws, executive orders or NCAA policies] mandate disclosure,” says Jenna McLaughlin, former chair of N.C. State University’s NIL Committee and ex-chief of staff to Athletics Director Boo Corrigan. (She left the university in September.) “We have had a handful of athletes disclose, but that is a fraction of the deals made by our student-athletes based on social media and word of mouth.”

NIL deals began in earnest in July, but most universities addressed them months in advance by developing educational programs to teach student-athletes about the legal do’s and don’ts. At N.C. State, the six-week Alpha course includes entrepreneurship, marketing, legalities and financial planning. These sessions may be the athletes’ best resource for life after college.

“Really, it’s a regulation that needed to be changed though a lot of student-athletes will go about their life as they always have,” McLaughlin says. “For some, name, image and likeness will not earn them more money than a normal part-time job.”

The new NIL policies are prompting aggressive recruiting efforts outside North Carolina. Memphis attracted the No. 1-ranked men’s basketball recruiting class partly because of NIL opportunities, according to the team’s coach, Penny Hardaway. Brigham Young University’s 85 scholarship football players can each earn $1,000 per semester to promote protein snack bars made by American Fork, Utah-based Built Brands. Another 38 walk-ons were eligible to receive tuition reimbursements.

Though such arrangements are not part of the original idea of how to assist Wolfpack athletes with NIL agreements, McLaughlin says, “N.C. State is working towards taking the next steps to ensure we do everything we can to help our student-athletes feel prepared to benefit from this legislation.” ■

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