It's just been a few weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled college athletes are free to work with brands, and Bojangles isn't letting any turf grow under its toes.
The Charlotte, North Carolina-based chain says it's signed Clemson University's DJ Uiagalelei (pictured above) and UNC-Chapel Hill's Sam Howell to Team Bojangles. Even as the endorsement world sorts through what’s changing for NIL -- or name, image and likeness–deals -- the QSR chain vows to add more athletes in the coming months. Jackie Woodward, chief brand and marketing officer, tells QSR Land why it's these student-athletes are such a good fit.
QSR Land: You are in the heart of the Southeastern Conference, generally regarded as having the fiercest fans. Will the ability to sign college athletes be a game-changer for Bojangles?
Jackie Woodward: It's a big deal. Bojangles is very much a tailgating brand. We have the Big Bo Box, which comes with eight, 12 or 20 pieces of chicken, fixings, which we call our sides, and a half-gallon of tea. So it's a family dinner in a box. And while we sell a lot of them all year long, we sell even more during football season. Tailgating is part of our DNA. So it took me about 10 minutes to decide that signing these quarterbacks was a great way for us to continue to drive that kind of relevance for our customers. They're fans of the school, fans of the team, and fans of the athletes themselves. This is just another way to deepen that fan relationship.
QSR Land: What's your take on how marketing deals will evolve following the ruling?
Woodward: Things are changing rapidly, both state by state and school by school. The University of Michigan was the first to do a team licensing deal, and UNC-Chapel Hill quickly followed. It's just very early days. But I do think it opens up opportunities for athletes that will help many of them. And we want to be part of the party.
QSR Land: What will Bojangles' fall marketing plan look like, with the addition of these student athletes?
Woodward: DJ and Sam are just the first. We have such a deep relationship with football fans in our footprint that we're creating a Team Bojangles: a diverse group of student athletes, men and women, in multiple sports. That just deepens the relationship with the school, the alumni and other fans. It's just a no-brainer for us to be able to support additional athletes.
But the other thing is, we are already feeling pent-up demand from consumers for wanting to get back. Not just college sports, but pro sports as well. Our Carolina Panthers boxes are big. And as people switch from homegating, which we emphasized last year, back to tailgating, we're planning a lot of fun activation in our restaurants. That's particularly true in college towns.
QSR Land: COVID-19 cases are surging in some of your markets. Are you concerned?
Woodward: We are fully open now. And we have a drive-through window. As it turns out, big, satisfying family meals, served through the drive-through window at a great price or delivery, are exactly what consumers want. So we have thrived during this time.
QSR Land: Who is the typical Bojangles customer these days?
Woodward: We're a mass brand here in the South, so we have customers from all walks of life. But mostly, we attract families who are on a budget and strapped for time. Moms tell us they prefer Bojangles because it feels like putting a family meal on the table. Everyone's eating the same thing. They're all eating a good protein with delicious sides. And they didn't have to cook themselves.