INFLCR Founder & CEO Jim Cavale sits down with AthleticDirectorU to dig into the future of Name, Image and Likeness and how the potential changes could impact his company. Cavale discusses promotion of the “we” mentality, tweaks to the INFLCR business model, scale, preparing for change, and much more.
The Future Of Name, Image, And Likeness: INFLCR’s Jim Cavale
- - In a recent blog post, you mentioned that some worry about NIL changes creating a "me" environment, but how do you believe these changes will further the “we” mentality?
- - Do you think NIL changes will allow for further amplification of team and institutional brands?
- - How will potential NIL changes impact mid-level athletes?
- - If you were a senior administrator, how would you be preparing for impending NIL changes?
- - Is the INFLCR platform positioned to adapt to potential NIL changes and help connect brands with student-athletes?
- - How would these changes alter your business model?
- - Can you scale the potential new aspects of the business to serve all the student-athletes that use the INFLCR and Teamworks platforms?
- - How would this potential new revenue stream fit into your business?
Matt Roberts: I’m Matt Roberts with Athletic Director U and D1.ticker from the Teamworks’ headquarters here in Durham, North Carolina. Jim Cavale, founder and CEO of INFLCR is with me, digging on NIL, name, image and likeness, of course, a huge topic of conversation around college athletics. You recently wrote a blog post about NIL where INFLCR’s position is really interesting in this whole conversation dynamic. What I found specifically interesting in your blog post and I want to read it so I don’t mess it up because I want to, I want you to expand upon this. You said, quote, “Some people are worried that the NCAA’s ruling on NIL will, will create a ‘me’ environment in college sports. But I firmly believe that it will only further the ‘we’ mentality.” Expand on that we as it pertains to NIL.
Jim Cavale: So, social media in general, and first off, Matt, thanks for putting this together. It’s great to be here and talk about this topic, but social media in general is something that can of course be used as a weapon of destruction, right? We’ve seen it before, but it also can be used as a weapon of production. And when it comes to that philosophy, it means that you’re telling your story individually, but also in the context of your team with your teammates. And we see so many times each day, many of our 13,000-plus athletes on INFLCR share content where they’re celebrating their teammates, they’re celebrating their team, they’re celebrating their fans, they’re celebrating the community. And by doing that, they’re telling a story that brands would love to be a part of. And brands would love to be a part of it with not just the star quarterback or the star point guard, but with multiple athletes, or maybe the entire group of athletes that make up that team. And so, I really believe that brands will want to play with teams still in media and on social media and will allow each athlete to participate with a pro rata share based on their following, their audience on social in that campaign so that everyone can win, the punter and the quarterback, the softball shortstop who’s a star, and the walk on who is a part of the team, but happens to be more of an influencer on campus with social.
MR: So the “we” is expanding the brand.
JC: Yeah, expanding the brand. And that’s already what’s happening without any dollars and any brands involved. The brand of the team is being expanded, because each of the players who are a part of that some are telling their story about that team.
MR: I’m curious if maybe you’ve looked at this data or considered it, if we move to a model where student athletes have the ability through whatever platform or framework and we’ll talk about that in a second to monetize portions of their NIL with particular partners, could that actually lead to more brand exposure if I’m Louisville Athletics, because the depth of a roster of who’s pushing out content, because they’re monetizing it, are you suggesting that potentially there’s an opportunity to further amplify that brand because of NIL?
JC: I think the brand of the team can already be further amplified through a platform like ours and the social media accounts of all the players without NIL…
JC: …and dollars being on the table. So I don’t think the team will necessarily get more exposure. Listen, I mean, the reality is, is what happens on the field or court still matters greatly.
JC: And what happens on the live broadcast that less people are watching still matters greatly. But based on what happens on that field or court, people, and more and more people want to be led into the lives of those athletes, and that team on that quarter field, because they’re winning, because they’re creating stories on the field or court that they want to see stories around that off the field or court. And so, what athletes are starting to do is embrace that by sharing content saying what they think, pushing their message out there which amplifies the brand of the team, amplifies their brand and this really gets into where NIL and everything fits in because that’s the, what I call, 9 out of 10 social media formula. What do I mean? Nine out of every 10 posts should be free, should be storytelling. One out of every 10 post should involve a brand. And if you see an athlete who if you go to their Instagram in the last six posts were ads, and they were like all…
JC: …that 12 months…
MR: …out the window, right.
JC: They didn’t work.
JC: And the brand will stop advertising with that athlete. But if you see an athlete LeBron, and if he can do it anyone can, who posts every day and tells their story and Instagram Stories every day, and then wants to weave a brand or two or three that they believe in into that story in an organic manner, that’s what works on social.
MR: I’ve seen you use the example before Benny Snell vs. Josh Allen. Josh Allen, first round draft pick Kentucky football goes to the Jags. Benny Snell, fourth round draft pick goes to the Steelers. Benny post college eligibility expiration or say, “I’m going to the NFL,” can get more per post and Josh because the depth of this and you use the example of a punter, I wonder if there are punters out there who have six-digit Instagram followers that can monetize that.
JC: Well, there’s going to be more, I don’t know about six digit, but there’s going to be more punters and mid to lower level athletes that will still have decent followings as we go on because high school athletes are benefiting from the movement of All-American Games, media outlets like SLAM and basketball over time.
MR: House of Highlights.
JC: House of Highlights. They’re all bringing an audience that if you appear in that content, you’re tagged, people follow you. They find out who you are. Not to mention the local news outlets are now doing that in every city. And even the teams that they play for are all playing in this. So it’s a rising tide lifts all boats situation. And they grew up as natives with technology. So they’ve been doing this all the time. I just had a student athlete from one of our SEC football clients text me, this happens all the time. He said, “Hey, man, really loved the app this season. Still using it. I really want to grow my brand.” I went and looked at his Instagram. He’s a senior. He’s posted five times in the last year. And he’s getting his content through INFLCR. Matter of fact, all five of his posts were through us really since September 1st when the season started. So it’s helping him post more. But what I preach when I do go on campus and talk to the student athletes is how you have to post about your family. If you have a child while you’re in college and you’re a father, like Josh Allen was, tell that story. Let people in with the fans. The fans come to you. They take pictures with you. They tag you in those pictures. You’re going to get an alert. Go comment on that post and capture that audience or that fan. Your team sends you to children’s hospital and other places to do community service, capture that story. And of course, tell the story of practice, the weight room, the games and everything going on, and do it often. And that frequency and variety builds the foundation that makes a brand want to work with a punter or a quarterback more than anyone who’s just posting every once in a while.
MR: I think it’s fair to say that lots of administrators out there are anxious to see how the working group comes back with the specific recommendations, right?
MR: I don’t think fear is the right word. I think they’re just anxious to figure out how this works. You engage with senior leaders on a weekly, if not daily basis, right, for INFLCR, ADs, deputies for external, etc., if you were sitting in their seats, how would you be preparing for this in a positive manner that’s beneficial for the entire department?
JC: I would make it my mission to befriend and pursue as many experts on this topic outside of college sports as possible. And I think that doing that means finding people from the brands’ world and not just going through whoever represents your school to find out about brands but going and meeting some CMOs and executive staff from brands and talking to them yourself about how they view social; meeting with pro athletes who are alums at your university, and talking to them about what’s changed since they left and how they might be using their social media to monetize their brand and partner with sponsors. I would talk to agents that represent athletes who played at your school and understand their viewership of the world, their perspective, I should say, of this world. I would do that. And I would do it intentionally enough to begin to build your own philosophy.
And then I would find peers who are fellow athletic directors, fellow executives that work as the associate or deputy AD level at other schools. And I would put together some meeting groups of your own to just talk about it and get other perspectives and begin to prepare a formula that fits college athletics from those who have been in it for decades and put a lot of great time and gained a lot of great experience. But let’s bring in some of the expert knowledge from the marketing, branding, social media technology world that doesn’t live inside of college sports and might be a reason that college sports tends to be behind in those realms.
JC: I mean, how many college athletics departments have a CTO? But how many big companies that make the same amount of revenue, hundred-million dollar-type revenue have a CTO? All of them.
MR: Right. Right.
JC: Right? No CTOs in college, CTO at every place that’s a business that makes the same revenues as a group of five or Power Five school and up. So we’ve got to start thinking about that, about marketing outside of just the college athletics niche.
MR: The INFLCR platform specifically strikes me that plugging in brands in the same space where student athletes are already having access to high-quality imagery from their contest to share, that seems like a pretty seamless connection. Is that how you view too potentially if we’re able to, if the industry is able to monetize NIL and student athletes can do that? Is that your platform that potentially makes that marriage happen?
JC: Yeah, it is. And, you know, we’ve thought that from the beginning. Since we started INFLCR in 2017, we, a, saw the college athletics space moving in this direction. The momentum we have now with the NCAA being involved, let alone California and the other states wasn’t there, but the reality of the direction it was going was, you know, athlete empowerment and name, image and likeness would, would potentially be on the table. But you also see at the pro level this already happening. And so, what we said was, what is the foundation of great storytelling and great social media? And we felt like it was the free organic, what I call daily storytelling that athletes can do and should do more of.
JC: And I saw holes between athletes stealing Getty watermarked images because they couldn’t get content. Tweeting out after games, “Hey, I need content. Send it to me.” Kyle Guy this year, playing the national championship game, wins it all, tweeting, “Hey, send me pics,” because there’s no solution. And I said, “Okay, how can we first just address that problem, but also know that it’s the foundation?” Because now they’re on INFLCR 4.7 times a week grabbing content and sharing it and there’s 13,000 of them soon to be with the Teamworks deal more than 100,000 of them. How can we now build a foundation where they’re on there doing the free storytelling that we know engages the audiences out there who are sports fans, and then complimentary to that bring in the monetization opportunities when it’s legal at the college level, but we’ve given birth to more than 500-pro athletes in the NBA and NFL from our, our clientele over the past year. How can we start doing this for them now to learn those features that need to be built for our college clients to activate and streamline brand relationships with athletes when NIL goes on the table?
MR: Does that materially change your business model as you see it today? Or is it more of a plugin, complimentary piece?
JC: We fortunately have built a really solid recurring revenue software business. We’re software first. This is more of an agency play that technology can streamline.
JC: And we will do it that way. It will be a new revenue stream for our business. But what I see out there is a lot of folks focusing on the 1 out of 10 advertising side first.
MR: Sure, sure.
JC: Maybe claiming that they’re technology but they’re really more of an agency. They’re an agency first, so you can see then the revenues because most of the revenues are commissions from brands that they helped cultivate a streamline post or social media campaign with certain athletes, that’s secondary to us, because we want all the athletes using our platform all the time as technology to share content, and then give them, based on their data, their activity, their audience reach, the things that brands really care about, give them those opportunities for relationships with brands to monetize their channel as a secondary opportunity.
MR: As a matter of scale, and you mentioned and I should have on the intro, we’re sitting in the Teamworks headquarters, we’re just a mere couple weeks, maybe a month or two from you guys getting in the same ship, if you will. Can you scale this piece of the potential business model, depending on what we learn, quickly enough given the exposure that Teamworks already has in the, in the greater sports but collegiate athletics marketplace to serve all potential users?
JC: We can. And the reason we can, first and foremost, is the media partnerships we have at the pro level, USA Today. We’ve worked on pilots with Turner Sports, Reuters internationally providing photography that gives our now pro athletes like an RJ Barrett, who played at Duke, one of our clients and is now playing for the Knicks or a PJ Washington who played at Kentucky is now playing for Charlotte or Gardner Minshew, right, like these guys, there’s 500 of them now played at schools that purchased INFLCR, got them on the platform and we let them keep it for free. We don’t charge the athlete $1 as a pro, because now we’ve got a behavior going on at the pro level that’s going to allow us to build this stuff and test it out and be ready.
We’ve also got Teamworks who has team relationship, software deals with teams in more than half of the NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS, and NHL. And so yes, this, this, the timing of the Teamworks-INFLCR deal gives us the chance to really build the next new frontier of our business. And that’s a big reason Neeta Sreekanth came to our team, from ESPN to be our COO. She has a lot of experience on that side of the realm that our business is going to now open up.
MR: You mentioned that it can be an additive and a complimentary new revenue vertical. Which side does the revenue come from? The brand side that you plug in to.
JC: Yeah, it’s shared revenue with the schools, the brands, that’s the source of the revenue and the athletes, and that’s what the committee has to figure out…
MR: That’s right.
JC: …is how all that works. And for us because we are a tech platform to be able to activate and track that kind of stuff with all the activity and usership we already have let alone how much we’ll have by the time they create this foundational set of rules puts us in a really good position.
MR: My guess is we’ll circle back on this conversation…
MR: …a couple of months.
JC: Maybe at the Final Four.
MR: That’s right.
JC: I want to do a mastermind. I want, I want to do a mastermind at the Final Four with athletic directors who are proactive on this. And to me, the more folks we can get together in one room, the more minds from outside of college sports and inside of college sports, the better. So maybe we could talk about that offline. And for those listening, maybe we’ll get a little bit of interest that we can tap into.
MR: And we’ll pull it off.
JC: All right brother.
MR: Good to see you.
JC: Thank you.
MR: Thank you.