Arkansas offensive lineman Dalton Wagner is one of the most recent Razorbacks to ink a name, image and likeness deal, signing a partnership agreement with World Wrestling Entertainment in December.
Wagner said WWE representatives reached out to him about a sponsorship opportunity through direct message on Instagram. He originally turned it down, saying he wanted to try his luck at the NFL. But the representatives told him about the NIL deal and Wagner jumped on it, he said.
The iconic professional wrestling entertainment company launched in 1963. WWE wrestling is a part of many people’s childhoods, including Wagner’s, so he was shocked to hear from the company, he said.
Wagner was one of 15 college athletes selected for the company’s “Next In Line” program. Of the participants, five are football players, and Wagner’s participation in the program has people around him excited.
“Once Dalton knew that was possibly going to be an opportunity, he brought that information to me and brought in some paperwork to look at,” said Terry Prentice, the Arkansas senior associate athletics director for athlete brand development. “It was really exciting for him.”
Wagner is the latest Razorback to capitalize on his name, image or likeness through a corporate sponsorship. Arkansas was one of the nation’s first institutions to hire staff devoted to dealing with NIL deals for student-athletes.
Prentice has been helping young athletes as they do business with large corporations such as WWE, or local favorites such as Wright's Barbecue. Prentice said his overall experience with Razorback student-athletes and NIL has been great.
“It’s been extremely positive,” Prentice said. “With the hair that (Wagner) has and given how tall he is, he really just fits the profile of what WWE would be looking for in their business model.”
Not only does Wagner’s partnership provide him an opportunity to make money while in school, it also gives him an alternate avenue if his preferred plans do not work out. Fewer than 2% of college athletes get an opportunity to play professional sports, according to the NCAA. This deal gives Wagner a foot in the door of WWE and a working relationship with its leadership before committing long-term.
“It’s a nice gateway once football is over, whether that’s after college or after a stint in the NFL,” Wagner said. “It’s a really cool opportunity that I can use and still have a nice platform to help (other athletes), help myself make some money while I’m at it too, and just provide entertainment.”
WWE is no stranger to college football players. At the time of the announcement for the NIL deal, both of the company’s top champions were former college football players: Ettore “Big E” Ewen and Leati Joseph “Roman Reigns” Anoa’i, a cousin of former WWE superstar and current big-budget actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Wagner, who plans to return to Arkansas for a sixth season, said he is focusing on football first and wants to pursue a career in the NFL. As a childhood wrestling fan, he is open to a career in WWE should football not work out.
Regardless of what the long-term future holds, WWE will be a part of Wagner’s life, at least in a small way, for a while. And the 6-foot-9-inch, 312 pound lineman already has one move in his professional wrestling arsenal.
“A pancake block is about as simple of a wrestling move as you can get so if I can figure out how to translate that to the ring, I think I’ll be alright,” Wagner said.
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