Outback Steakhouse is dipping its toes into the NIL waters.
The restaurant has signed its first seven college football athletes to be part of its TeamMATES program, which will help raise money for local and national causes. The inaugural class includes University of Florida quarterbacks Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson; Ohio State University quarterback C.J. Stroud, wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson; and University of Michigan running back Blake Corum and wide receiver A.J. Henning.
During a panel at Advertising Week, Kim Morales, Outback’s director of brand marketing, spoke about the process of getting the program set up and deciding on its inaugural class.
“We started with football because that made the most sense in terms of fan base,” Morales said. “Part of that was looking at schools in our top markets, as well as the social media followings of the athletes there.” She pointed to Henning, who has 216,000 followers on TikTok.
Outback already has a history of sports sponsorships, the biggest being the Outback Bowl, the college football game usually played on New Year’s Day. Although NIL — which stands for name, image and likeness — passed back in July, the brand decided to wait until further into the football season before signing its first athletes. With college sports having more volatility than professional sports, Outback wanted to see which players would have “more long-term leverage,” Morales said. But she admits that the process was longer and more challenging than they originally anticipated.