Oklahoma State launched a hype video to announce a new partnership, even when it seemed a college football season might not happen.
Tennessee football showed Jim Cavale speaking to its Volunteers' football team, captivated, inside the school's pristine Anderson Training Center.
At North Carolina, athletics director Bubba Cunningham sat down and conducted a lengthy video interview to discuss the importance of the subject.
Aside from simply navigating to some kind of finish line in an unprecedented autumn of college athletics, especially football, in flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Name, Image and Likeness might be the biggest topic in college athletics.
“Without a doubt, it is the biggest,” said one executive. “Aside from COVID, that's it.”
Stepping into the center of that topic, and already providing solutions to tens of thousands of college athletics, is Cavale's company, INFLCR (pronounced: influencer).
“I think that like most changes to an industry, this is really going to change college sports dramatically,” Cavale told FootballScoop.com. “It will evolve. This is just the beginning, and then are athletes going to start getting salaries? Maybe. What I do know is the NCAA has not really drawn a line and said this is exactly how it's going to work. They've just put together what they've called guardrails.
“We've got to get it out there, expose what works and what doesn't. And then argue and evolve from there. This isn't going to start next year and be perfect. V1, Version 1 of these rules will probably, no probably, it will look much different than Version 2 or 5 or whatever over the next decade. It will change college sports significantly.”
Many schools, Duke, Penn State and West Virginia among myriad additional INFLCR partners, already have ventured into the realm for their student-athletes.
“Just being able to have the INFLCR app, it can build your brand tremendously,” McTelvin Agim, a former Arkansas standout and third-round 2020 NFL Draft pick by the Denver Broncos, said on video. “You can build your brand for when you leave college.”
When Oklahoma State announced its multiyear partnership, it came in form of an cutting-edge video with a voiceover from football coach Mike Gundy, whose team had climbed to No. 6 in the national rankings before an overtime-loss last week against Texas.
“I'm excited to announce an exclusive partnership with INFLCR, an industry leader in Name, Image and Likeness,” Gundy said in the clip. “This partnership allows our student-athletes to tell their stories, grow their audiences and build their brands.”
Harnessing athletes' burgeoning brand-power is the foundational goal for Cavale, himself a former college athlete.
“Influence exists to serve and educate,” Cavale said. “Tor the school, we track every share an image gets, they can see which pictures and videos were shared, how many people were reached. Was it recruits? Fans? All the things people want to know about, especially with the rise of social media. There's a whole two-thirds of a team's audience that you don't reach through the team account and social. How can you tap into those?
“We're now partnered with more than 100 universities and 800 college teams. We can store, track and deliver content to a network of more than 30,000 athletes, reaching 50 million people.”
Perhaps more vital, INFLCR dives into the data behind the potential dollars for collegiate athletes and others positioning to capitalize on personal branding via social media.
“The market, really when it comes to influencer marketing, it values athletes at 80 cents a follower annually,” Cavale explained. “The (projected) numbers you saw for (Clemson's) Trevor Lawrence or Tua (Tagovailoa, former Alabama quarterback and now Miami Dolphins starter) or the star gymnast at UCLA (Katelyn Ohashi) or West Virginia (Erica Fontaine). Really, what people are doing is just taking their follower numbers.
“The market is about to be flooded with choices for student-athletes for advertisers. Literally there's about to be tens of thousands. The amount of money, there's a $1.3 billion industry in college sports advertising. Will all athletes get opportunities or be as high dollar? I think the 80-cent-per-follower number will go down. And student-athletes are going to be happy to get paid whatsoever. Then I think that number will go back up. Let's say you have two great athletes, who both have the same number of followers. The one who's better on social media is going to win the deal.”
That's because, Cavale continues, the data is going to show precisely what makes that potential athlete-endorse “better” on social media.
“There are other variables beyond followers like engagement percentage,” Cavale said. “How much do they engage, like, post, reshare? A 20% number is really good. What's their market? Conference? Are they from a revenue sport or non-revenue sport? How active are they on social media? Regular or weekly or daily? These things matter, too, to advertisers.”
Those items likewise matter to collegiate leaders. Cunningham, the savvy UNC leader responsible for the football program's resurgence by bringing back Mack Brown, basketball's continued national profile and a multitude of other successful sports, wants to arm Tar Heels with more than just the school's ubiquitous Jordan-branded gear with the tartan patterns via the school's five-year deal with INFLCR.
“While I do have reservations about name, image and likeness and what it means to college athletics, I want to do everything I can possibly do to help our students improve their brand and potentially improve their opportunity for additional opportunities when they finish their school activities,” Cunningham said on video. “There's two things that are fundamentally important at the University of North Carolina: No. 1 is we want to provide an incredible education for our students that are here. Part of their education is outside the classroom. Their participation in sport is a big part of it. There are so many other co-curricular activities on campus.
“But learning about brand management, learning about entrepreneurship, about innovation, those are hallmarks to a great university, and it's something that Carolina is really proud of.”
Ultimately, programs must serve their athletes the way those athletes in turn serve the programs while also obtaining an education.
The coaches and leaders who lean into the impending N.I.L. revolution in college athletics, Cavale explains, are the ones whose programs are able to be better positioned for success. The NCAA's Division I Council is set to vote on a finalized set of guidelines/rules at their January meeting.
“I think it's hugely important,” Cavale said. “In athletics, the system you run, is a big selling point. Academics, majors, programs, facilities and now branding is on the same stage. It's only going to grow in importance as N.I.L. becomes real and there are real deals there to show it.
“The head coach who understands social media and branding and can communicate has an enormous leg up because you can hire somebody [to assist]. John Calipari, our first-ever client, can sit down in front of any blue-chip prospect and say, 'Hey, this is all we do for your brand here.' And say, 'Hey, my social media is better than yours.' Because he does it. Coaches are communicating this from top down, this is big. I've even seen coaches who at one time said, 'We don't do social media here' or 'You can't do it in season' now going back on their words, because they realize we have to care about this. They're producing that content bc they're getting the questions.”