The popular Baton Rouge-based restaurant Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux has stepped into the NIL sphere with their new program called “Walk-On of the Week”. This new program will honor walk-on student-athletes from around the country, each week in a partnership with Kordell Caldwell, a football player and law school student at Southern University.
For the uninitiated, the new NIL movement in collegiate sports means that it is now legal for student-athletes to benefit off of their own name, image, or likeness with sponsorship deals, awards, and more.
“[Walk-Ons] created this program to highlight the real magic of sports, the underdog,” said Brandon Landry, founder & CEO of Walk-Ons. As you might be able to put together based on the restaurant's name, founders Brandon Landry and Jack Warner first met as walk-on’s for LSU’s basketball team. They opened their first location across the street from the Alex Box Stadium.
The Reveille spoke with Walk-On’s Director of Sports Marketing & Strategic Sponsorships, Jason Suitt, about why they started this, what the athletes gain from receiving the award, and how a walk-on earns this title?
Suitt added some clarity, saying "We are looking for student-athletes that align with our Walk-On’s way of living every day with the heart of a walk-on, embracing that underdog spirit, and playing for the team. We have partnered with the mobile app, Matchpoint Connection. Once registered through the app, they can tell us their story and why they should be considered for our Walk-On of the Week program."
Recognition is great for student-athletes, but what should a walk-on expect to gain from the opportunity? According to Suitt, "Our Walk-Ons of the Week are welcomed into our Family of Athletes. Obviously, there is also a financial benefit that we can help support these athletes, many of whom must work outside jobs to make ends meet, as they pursue their dreams."
Lastly, now that the criteria and award details have been sorted, Suitt discussed the common misconception in the rise of the NIL. "College athletes will make millions of dollars from endorsement deals. The reality is a relatively small number of student-athletes, out of approximately 490,000 in the NCAA, have the star power and/or social reach to command that kind of investment level from corporations. Published data shows that in the first month of NIL the average transaction at the Division I level was $471."
The first recipient of the Walk-On of the Week program was Emilee Cox, a softball player at Purdue. Purdue is the alma mater of one of Walk-On’s biggest partners, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Cox’s Walk-On of the Week interview actually got hijacked by Brees via Zoom. Cox was sitting in the Drew Brees Center on Purdue’s campus.
The NIL trend will only continue to rise as it's only in its infancy. It is important for student-athletes to be able to profit off of themselves and not to those who aren’t putting in the effort week in and week out. It is especially great to see walk-on athletes get the support and recognition that they deserve.