We've always thought of Anthony Walker as somewhat of a superhero. He is an All-American and has earned an impressive list of preseason accolades. But now, Northwestern is fully embracing and promoting Walker as the hero that it deserves. Northwestern released a video this morning, ESPN's (and Northwestern graduate) Darren Rovell reported the news shortly after.
Walker's superhero transformation is complete, featuring his own personalized logo and even a lunchbox with his nickname "The Franchise" labeled on the top. Also featured is Walker's own comic book, including the phrases "body clock" and "put your hands up in the air" on the same page, a must-have for any Northwestern fan. And what little kid wouldn't want to go to school with a "The Franchise" lunchbox? Other kids may have Superman or Spiderman, but there's only one "The Franchise".
On a semi-serious note, this is a big deal. We're not sure how Northwestern plans to market the items shown, and we don't even know how involved Walker was in the creation process. We do know, however, that Anthony Walker will not receive any compensation for this. Rovell commented that 100 shirts were made and that none are for sale, they are being given to members of the media. Northwestern was kind enough to give InsideNU a "The Franchise" package, and Dave Eanet, the voice of WGN radio and Northwestern football, received the items as well.
Of course, it's hard to not think of Northwestern's unionization efforts when hearing about Northwestern's aggressive marketing plans for unpaid athletes. Led by former quarterback Kain Colter, Northwestern football players came together in an effort to unionize in 2014. After the National Labor Relations Board sided against the university and ruled that the Northwestern players had the right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining under federal labor law, Northwestern unsurprisingly appealed the decision. 17 months later, the board declined to assert jurisdiction, stating that it did not want to create instability in labor relations.
Colter led the unionization so players could be given a voice for important decisions and receive recognition for their efforts. Northwestern will definitely not sell these items, and this is likely a simple act to promote its star linebacker to the media. Northwestern doesn't even sell Walker's number 18 jersey, which would be twice as popular since it is worn by Clayton Thorson on the offensive side of the ball. On the other hand, Northwestern, as well as Under Armour, could potentially be benefitting from Walker's name and the brand that he has created for himself on the field. The marketing plan also comes as Ed O'Bannon's famous lawsuit against commercial use of NCAA athletes is being appealed to the Supreme Court.
There's a fine line that is being walked upon here, and at the very least, with the unionization effort considered, this is a bold marketing move for Northwestern. It will be interesting to hear what Walker says about it, and I'm sure we will find out more at Big Ten Media Day's on July 25 and 26. Northwestern's video promoting "The Franchise" ends conspicuously with "7.25.16", so perhaps a Media Day announcement is in store.
Walker joins an impressive list of athletes to have their own logo, including those in the Under Armour family, Tom Brady, Steph Curry, Bryce Harper, Jordan Spieth, and Cam Newton. With the NFL looming in his future, a personal logo is one less thing Walker will have to worry about.