Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 5, 2024

UT diamond stars, Weigel’s strike NIL gold with promotion

Moore led his team with 34 home runs on the way to a national championship, while Pickens had 225 strikeouts, also best on her squad. - Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com

University of Tennessee infielder Christian Moore and Lady Vols pitcher Karlyn Pickens might be directly responsible for the consumption rate of Coke and Diet Coke spiking across East Tennessee this spring.

 The two All-Americans signed name, image and likeness deals with Weigel’s to promote the family owned and operated East Tennessee business. Whenever Moore hit a home run or Pickens notched six strikeouts in a game, anyone who visited a Weigel’s convenience store the following day could receive a free 24-ounce Coke or Diet Coke.

 Weigel’s anticipated giving away more than 40,000 24-ounce Coca-Cola products this season. Instead, because of Pickens’ rocket arm and Moore’s powerful swing, the company gave away more than 80,000.

 “I thought it may be a little easier than they thought it was going to be,” Pickens says of her strikeout benchmark. “But it’s cool that so many people were able to benefit from it by getting a free Coke.”

 Moore hit a team-leading 34 home runs this season and homered at least once in 27 games. Pickens struck out at least six batters 17 times this season on her way to a team-leading 225 strikeouts.

Although Moore took a while to heat up, homering just twice in his first 11 games, Pickens quickly put Weigel’s to the test. The SEC Pitcher of the Year reached at least six strikeouts in four of her first five games, including totals of 12 and 14.

“That backfired immediately because Karlyn’s amazing,” Nick Triantafellou, director of marketing at Weigel’s, says with a laugh. “That became something that she would easily achieve from the second or third inning of the game.”

Weigel’s, which operates 79 convenience stores, has been doing NIL deals with UT athletes since it became allowed in 2021. Over the last year, Triantafellou has made it a priority to sign an equal number of male and female athletes as endorsers.

Weigel’s recently completed an NIL deal with the entire UT women’s volleyball team for the upcoming season that was arranged through the Lady Vol Boost Her Club.

“We just did their photoshoot with all 23 players last week, and it went great,” Triantfellou says. “I got really good feedback from my marketing team when they’re together hanging out. It’s amazing to be able to work with all of them and have some fun with that campaign this fall.”

Rather than having UT athletes do meet-and-greets or sign autographs at stores, Weigel’s prefers to use them in less-intrusive marketing campaigns, with an emphasis on boosting the chain’s social media following.

“It’s completely changing how the public looks at us when it comes to the social media lens, because honestly, who wants to interact with a gas station on social media?” Triantafellou says. “No one cares about brands online, especially a gas station. But we are having direct conversations with the community about things they care about; things they love and things they’re passionate about. It’s completely changed how people view us.”

Rob Neal lost count of how many Coke Zeros he and his wife received for free this season after Moore hit a home run. The Niota residents say they both love watching the Vols play and were happy to stop at the nearest Weigel’s whenever Moore went deep.

“I think it’s great for the student-athletes to be able to collect on some of these NIL deals. I am happy to see them get a little payback for their hard work,” Neal says. “I think it also helps keep the community involved. It seemed like there was even more attention on the baseball team with this promotion.”

When Weigel’s first started signing NIL deals with UT athletes, it used its own products in the campaign. But Triantafellou says vendors like Coca-Cola and Pepsi noticed the success and asked if their products could be included.

Weigel’s exceeded the limit agreed to with Coca-Cola this spring because Pickens and Moore were so successful, but the company didn’t mind compensating for the extra 24-ounce drinks given away.

“Whatever we are paying, the branding, the marketing and everything else that we have gotten from this, it’s worth it,” Triantafellou says. “It’s taken on a new life to where the announcers for one softball game spent an entire inning debating if Christian hit two home runs and Karlyn got her six strikeouts, are we getting three Cokes tomorrow? They spent an entire inning talking about Weigel’s. That’s totally worth it.”

Triantafellou is “super passionate” about Weigel’s NIL program. Any time he speaks at business events, he encourages others in the industry to sign college athletes to deals. He tells them how it’s not only positively impacted Weigel’s business, but the East Tennessee community overall.

“The satisfaction I get from being able to work with these kids is amazing. They’re amazing athletes, they have amazing achievements, and it’s cool that we are now in a position in this world where we can help them,” Triantafellou says. “I have no problem when we authorize that check every month to those kids because they deserve it.”