Before this season, if you made a catch like the one Jared Casey did last weekend to clinch the Kansas Jayhawks victory at Texas in overtime, you’d probably be a hero on campus for a few weeks. Your family would fawn over you at Thanksgiving, your parents wouldn’t shut up to their neighbors about the game-winning catch, and by the new year, all would be forgotten in what is probably going to be a 3-9 season at best as the true Kansas sport, basketball, took over the state. In 50 years, you’d be telling your grandkids about the catch over and over again.
But now, in the truest spirit of being a walk-on from Plainville, you also can receive the ultimate reward of an Applebee’s gift card worth a grand, thanks to the NIL. I’ve got to hand it to Applebee’s on how fast they turned this one around — moments like this are fleeting, but dammit, the public just loves a walk-on freshman on an underdog team making a catch like that! And in the first game he’d played on offensive snaps for the Jayhawks this season!
In a post-Super Bowl-esque statement in the ad, Casey forgoes Disney World, telling the camera, “I’m going to Applebee’s,” and ordering two appetizers from their two for $22 menu because “you always have to go for two.”
I said it before, but I really have to hand it to Applebee’s on this one. That going for two bit really worked out with their appetizer special. You couldn’t have written it better. Casey reportedly received a $1,000 Applebee’s gift card (family Thanksgiving at Applebee’s this year, anyone?) and $800 cash. But I also think this is a fantastic example of what NIL sponsorships are going to move toward in the future. Companies were trigger-happy this year with the law finally going into effect, which resulted in players like Bryce Young racking up six figures in endorsements and players like Spencer Rattler letting down some sponsors after getting unexpectedly benched a few games into the season.
After working out some of the kinks in the system, this Applebee’s deal is going to be much more reflective of the future of the NIL than bigger preseason endorsements that carry a higher risk. By capitalizing on a moment rather than gambling on a young adult prone to injury and subject to the whims of coaches, this type of endorsement reaches an audience far greater than the fans of a single team or player. And not to get too sentimental, but it lets the play of a lifetime live on a little longer for the Jayhawks and Casey — while it will eventually be lost to CFB history (in, like, two weeks), it’s a great use of the NIL rules and a fantastic marketing tactic. Outside of Austin (and Manhattan, Kansas), everyone’s a Kansas fan right now.
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The issue is really who can be the quickest to jump on opportunities like this, as unpredictable (and yet, as characteristic of college football) as they are.
I’ve written about this before, and the next five years of the NIL will be an ever-shifting landscape as companies and student-athletes try to figure out how to take advantage of the laws and as states settle into different regulations. But I will say if this type of deal can become more common, it may be able to offset some of the recruiting imbalances that NIL is projected to create. It’s hard to say whether NIL strategies will change, but for now, Jared Casey is a Lawrence legend — and has a lot of Applebee’s meals to get through.