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Name, Image, & Likeness With West Virginia’s Brown

Guest Neal Brown, West Virginia; Jim Cavale, INFLCR
12:12 min watch


West Virginia Head Football Coach Neal Brown sits down with INFLCR Founder & CEO Jim Cavale to discuss the Mountaineers’ partnership as the first football program to join the NIL Suite Data Services offering. Brown shares his perspectives on branding, positioning the WVU brand, how NIL is impacting recruiting, and thoughts on the proposed NIL legislation.


The conversation is indexed below for efficient viewing (click the time stamp to jump to a specific question/topic). There’s also a full transcription at the bottom if you’d prefer to read to the discussion.

  • - What led you to be the first partner to add the NIL Suite Data Services offering?
  • - What do you want people to think when they see the West Virginia Football logo?
  • - How is NIL shaping your recruiting strategy?
  • - Talk about your philosophy to help your student-athletes grow the value of their NIL through storytelling on social media and why you've chosen to go all-in on that.
  • - What are your thoughts on the potential NIL legislation and where it should be to help you put your student-athletes in the best position to succeed?

Full Transcript


Jim Cavale: So I now have the pleasure of being joined by West Virginia football head coach, Neal Brown. Coach Brown, you’ve been an early adopter since I met you. Back when INFLCR was founded, 3 years ago now, you were our third ever client. 100+ college athletic partners later, 700+ teams, 22,000+ athletes, you’re now the first college football program to take advantage of this NIL Suite Data Services offering that we’re piloting, and I just gotta ask: Why are you investing in this first?


Neal Brown: Well Jim I appreciate the kind words too, and I am one of the younger ones but I don’t know how long I can stay that way. So, you know, I’m getting hit by a lot of different angles right now, so, hopefully…I’m starting to get a little grey in my beard, and in my hair, and you know if it’s because I’ve got three kids, because of COVID, or what’s going on, but (and I appreciate the kind words).


And a real simple answer is this: we have a mission statement in our program, and it’s the same that it was at Troy when we helped get that where it needed to be. And the mission is really easy, and it’s really our “why” of our program. I think it’s really important that you gotta understand your “why.”


Our “why” is to serve and develop what we say “total Mountaineers.” And INFLCR has helped us serve and develop our players. We’re a players-first program. We’ve been all-in with the product since Jeremy McClain introduced us, and we were able to spend some time together. I think it was extremely beneficial to our players at Troy, and our football brand, our program’s brand at Troy. And we brought that here and our players have embraced it.  think they’ve used it. We’ve looked at the numbers just like you have, and what our players have been able to do on their social media platforms, the voice they have, has been incredible, and I think INFLCR has played an important role with that.


Cavale: It means a lot Coach, and you know, when I look back at our history, early on, at Troy, when we formed our partnership, you and athletic director Jeremy McClain (at the time, he’s now at Southern Miss) asked me to come down and speak to your team. And when I addressed your team, it was clear to me that you had already talked about “brand” and social media with them. They were keen and aware they have to grow a brand, And so, talking about that word, “brand,” and thinking about when I see a Nike logo, I think something. When you see the logo of your favorite restaurant, Chick-Fil-A, whatever it is, you think something, what do you want people to think when they see that West Virginia football logo?


Brown: Yeah, so, I think that you look at it a couple different ways. And first of all, what I’ll tell you is that WV logo that’s right over my shoulder here is one of the most recognizable logos in all of athletics. And you’re talking about a state where we have approximately 1.8 million residents. And whether it’s licensing, social media following in our athletic accounts, is this WV is really recognizable. It’s got power. And so, I think you can look at it a couple different ways. You know, is first of all, what does our state represent? Because I think it’s important because we don’t have another Power 5 school in our state, there’s no professional sports franchises: NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA, nothing like that calls West Virginia home, so we are West Virginia’s program, we are West Virginia’s football team.


And so, I think first of all, what does that WV stand for as it pertains to our state? I think it recognizes a humble group of individuals, hardworking, overachievers…I think that’s what our state stands for. And then on the football field, what we want, and what we’re trying to work toward our football program’s brand is being we want fun, we want positive energy. We want it to be about our players. We want to play, we want our brand to be recognized for high scoring on offense, tight on defense, and we care. We want people to know that we care. We care about our players, we want our players to understand that they care about everything that goes into our program, and everything that goes into our state.


So, that’s really, that’s a big question, and I don’t think there’s a one-word answer, but that’s probably as comprehensive of a look as I can give to you.


Cavale: Yeah, that makes sense Coach, I think that you describe it really well, and I think that the reality is, is that there is a thought that comes to everyone’s mind when they see that logo right away, and you’re helping to cultivate the story  they hear in their mind. At the same time, there’s a story you’re helping cultivate in recruiting around NIL and how you’re supporting the social media brand-building of your student-athletes. So let’s talk about how NIL is shaping your recruiting strategy.


Brown: I’ll answer the first part first: social media has become a huge presence in recruiting. Whether it’s through communication, through messaging, branding, however you want to say it, but it is. What we’re trying to do with our social media accounts, whether it’s Instagram, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, whatever, we’re trying to tell our story to the demographic that’s on those mediums. We want to be the ones telling our story. And it’s the same thing that we talk to our players about, is “tell your story.” Don’t let somebody else tell the story for you. We always talk about “what do you want to be about?” “Who do you want to be?” “Who are you trying to be?” “What are your future goals?” And then, let’s develop you who are and the story you’re telling for your future goals. And so, that’s how we’re trying to teach our players: we do, we spend a lot of time, because I think that’s important. That’s their voice. And they have to understand is their voice, because of that WV, because of that uniform they’re in, it’s powerful. And so they have to make sure they’re conveying the message they want to send.


Cavale: There’s no doubt about it Coach. And, let’s be honest: there are going to be a lot of different recruiting styles and strategies out there because of NIL now, and some of them will not be compliant. Because it’s clear, you can’t promise deals to a prospective student-athlete. And of course you want to, not only stay compliant, but you want to paint a vision of empowering their brands to grow in value for them to go realize. You’ve really leaned in on this with us, as far as how we’ve rolled out this Data Services portion of the NIL Suite to help you show a recruit how much you can build their brand (and thus, their NIL value) for them to go realize. Talk about that.


Brown: Well I think you can either embrace it or complain about it, but however you’re going to go about it, it’s coming down the road. I don’t think there’s any way to avoid it. And so what we’ve tried to do within our program is we’ve just said, “Hey, this is coming. How can our players benefit?” Because, we don’t have a professional sports organization here. And so, I think athletes that are coming, potential recruits that are coming into West Virginia have a tremendous opportunity here with NIL that maybe, at other spots they don’t. And that’s because there’s competition in the market. Maybe they’re competing with other Power 5 programs. Maybe they’re competing with other professional organizations. Where here, our student-athletes, especially football guys, and this is true for men’s basketball and, there’s some other sports that are very visible here, but they don’t have that same level of competition for those NIL dollars. So, we’ve chosen to embrace it. Let’s educate our players. We’ve partnered with INFLCR because I’m a big believer in, I’m not an expert in branding. So let’s go hire the best. And so, we see you all as the experts in branding and storytelling, you’re the experts, so we want to bring the experts to our players. And so, that’s what we’re doing , that’s what we’re hoping to accomplish with this partnership.


Cavale: And that really sets us up for where I want to end our conversation, which is on the topic of NIL legislation and the recommendations that have been pushed out thus far. Now, obviously, these are just recommendations, they’re still months ahead of us, of debates around each key piece of framework to figure out what the final regulations are. But, looking at them today, there’s some significant limitations around your involvement as a program and the realized NIL by your student-athletes as far as monetization commercially. Talk about your thoughts about the legislation and just any thoughts you have around where it should be to hep you put your student-athletes in the best possible place with NIL.


Brown: I think that what you’re going to see is, just like any legislation that comes, is that it takes a lot of manpower to form the compliance around it and to make it happen. And I think that’s what you need here, is the NCAA needs to get some guidance. The legislation as its current form, I don’t think that’s what’ll pass. I think it’ll be quite a bit different. That’s really what we’re waiting on. We know it’s coming, we know there’ll be NIL, we just don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like. But I think we’re going to need some clear guidance from the NCAA of how to bring it to fruition and then how to make sure that people are compliant with it.


Cavale: Well Coach, I just gotta say, we continue to appreciate our partnership with West Virginia athletics, and especially West Virginia football. You have made an innovative investment with INFLCR to add our NIL Suite and Data Services offering, and your student-athletes, coaches, and overall program are going to benefit off of it, and that’s what we’re most excited about. So, thank you for your passion for athletes and their brands, and your continued partnership with INFLCR.


Brown: I’m excited about it. Appreciate what you guys do.