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Georgia QB J.T. Daniels Signs Massive NIL Deal with Zaxby’s

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Featured: UGA QB J.T. Daniels, who has just signed a partnership deal with Zaxby’s. Image provided by Zaxby’s.

Fast-casual restaurant brand Zaxby’s, which has its headquarters in Athens, Georgia, has made the University of Georgia’s starting quarterback the face of its name, image, and likeness (NIL) campaign for the 2021-22 football season. It is expected to bring UGA quarterback J.T. Daniels a significant sum of money in exchange for a host of deliverables that include appearances at corporate and philanthropic events, involvement in Zaxby’s advertisements, and Daniels sharing Zaxby’s content on his social media accounts.

Daniels has already indicated he intends to share some of the benefits he receives from the deal with his teammates and bring meals to a non-profit organization called ESP, which was created to assist people with disabilities.

An image of Daniels holding a Zaxby’s chicken sandwich has surfaced, with the quarterback wearing apparel that bears the official mark of the Georgia athletics program. It is one of the first NIL deals, particularly between an athlete and a major brand, that allows the parties to use the marks of the university in connection with the contemplated NIL activities.

A big reason why Georgia was willing to provide consent for the use of its marks in this situation is that Zaxby’s has an existing sponsorship with the university. Georgia’s NIL law does not expressly prohibit athletes from using school marks as part of their NIL activities with brands, but that is not true for all state laws on the subject. For instance, South Carolina’s NIL law would have prevented such use. The relevant portion of that law states that “an intercollegiate athlete at an institution of higher learning may not use the institution of higher learning’s facilities, uniforms provided by the institution of higher learning, or the institution of higher learning’s intellectual property, including, but not limited to, the unauthorized use of a registered trademark or product protected by copyright, in connection with the use of the intercollegiate athlete’s name, image, or likeness activities.” That is why you will not see Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei donning any school marks as part of his new engagement with Dr. Pepper.

As of now, Zaxby’s does not plan to sign another college football player to endorse its brand during the 2021-22 season, while it appears that Dr. Pepper is still considering offering athletes NIL opportunities as one-offs as the season progresses.

With Daniels, Zaxby’s enters into a NIL space that has seen a lot of activity among fast-food restaurants focused on delivering chicken-based products. Raising Cane’s has already established a relationship with Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, while the aforementioned Uiagalelei and UNC quarterback Sam Howell signed deals with Bojangles. One of these brands could end up claiming it landed the future Heisman Trophy winner.

Daniels is represented by Greenville, South Carolina-based Everett Sports Marketing for his NIL ventures.

Written by Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner is the founder of Heitner Legal. He is the author of How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know, published by the American Bar Association, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. You can reach him by email at heitner@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @DarrenHeitner.

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