Oklahoma State's deal with INFLCR a gamechanger for current, future athletes in NIL era: 'This is the future'
STILLWATER — Cade Cunningham understands the importance of marketing himself, but it’s still a struggle.
He was the nation’s top-ranked basketball recruit before arriving at Oklahoma State this summer. He’s possibly the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick next year.
But he’s tweeted twice — outside of retweets — to more than 15,000 followers since his June 22 announcement that he remained committed to the Cowboys.
Privacy is precious. But he also has a brand to build.
“What I want to be seen, I feel like I do a pretty good job of controlling what’s put out there on me,” Cunningham told The Oklahoman this summer.
“Having more fans means more facetime on everything. It just brings a whole lot more opportunities. Though, I need to do a little bit better than I do of being on Twitter, being on Instagram.”
Even the superstars need a little help. That’s where INFLCR (pronounced “influencer”) comes in.
A software and mobile app designed to empower student-athletes to build their own brand, the company is OSU’s new partner ahead of proposed Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) changes.
INFLCR automatically takes a photo, video or graphic from the university or agreed-upon national media outlets of an athlete like Cunningham and loads it into his app before he’s even left the basketball court. He can then share it across all social media platforms.
Even without the ability to profit now, INFLCR can help Cunningham build an even stronger following, aiding in endorsements when he likely heads to the NBA next year.
“This is the future,” said OSU associate director of communications Stephen Howard, who is the men’s basketball sports information director. “For me personally, Cade is the whole reason that it was so essential to get this started as soon as possible.
“We can’t wait until next year.”
INFLCR founder and CEO Jim Cavale’s opportunity arrived three years ago.
A former Division II baseball player, he became an entrepreneur, even starting his own fitness company that had 50 locations. But he noticed athletes struggled on social media to tell their own story. They too often had to find water-marked photos on Google to share.
Cavale believed there had to be a better way.
With the NIL movement starting to take shape, Cavale sold his company and in 2017 started INFLCR.
“Schools helping their student-athletes grow their audience, grow the engagement of their audience on social media really shouldn’t be new,” Cavale said. “It should be something that they’ve already been doing.”
First, INFLCR landed Kentucky men’s basketball. By the company’s launch, Auburn and UAB had also joined. Now, INFLCR has agreements with more than 100 universities, with more than 700 teams and 23,000 athletes involved.
Along with their own photos and videos, each university has access to photos from USA Today Images, Getty Images, Reuters and the extensive music library of Atlantic Records. The software uses rosters, facial recognition, number recognition and metadata as identifiers, automatically sending the photos or videos to that specific player’s app.
INFLCR charges an annual fee for its services, which ranges from $10,000 to $50,000, depending on how many sports enroll.
OSU recently signed a five-year agreement for all sports, which includes a new data services offering as part of the new NIL suite for football and both basketball teams. Those athletes and coaches will meet quarterly with the company to enhance and strategize using analytics.
The football team, women’s basketball team and women’s soccer team began using the app last week. Men’s basketball will begin this week, with other sports to follow.
“I feel like it’s a great opportunity, not only for me but the entire team” OSU senior defensive back Rodarius Williams said. “There’s a lot of guys on this team that got great ideas and great marketing attributes to their name, so I feel like it’ll be a great access to our team.”
OSU safety Tre Sterling sees plenty of marketing opportunities ahead.
“I’m trying to get Eskimo Joe’s on board,” Sterling recently joked about his marketing potential with INFLCR and the future NIL possibilities.
“They haven’t applied yet.”
Really, when NIL profits begin, the possibilities are enormous for all OSU athletes from Cade Cunningham to Chuba Hubbard to the walk-on athletes.
It all begins with the amount of followers an athlete has on social media.
Jim Cavale said around 80 cents is often applied to each follower. The value goes up and down based on wins and losses, the sport, the conference, the university’s media market, quality of followers and even how active the athlete is on social media.
Even for players like Cade Cunningham, Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace likely to turn pro before NIL can impact them, that’s huge.
It might be even more important for golfers or tennis players, both sports that professionally require individual endorsements.
Even walk-ons can find eventual profits using INFCLR.
“They want to make the most of it for the four years they’re at OSU,” Cavale said. “They also want to have the content when they leave for the memories.”
But a player like Cunningham has the most to gain.
He spent the majority of the early pandemic in Dallas working out with NBA players Marcus Smart, Emmanuel Mudiay, Taurean Prince and Jonathan Motley among others.
They often focused on Cunningham’s looming decision after OSU’s NCAA sanctions. But some gave him advice on being a complete star basketball player.
Now, he’s getting a chance to fill his pockets even more in the future.
“The bigger your brand is, a whole lot more endorsements you can get down the line,” Cunningham said. “Getting people to know you early on, I feel like that will be big for whenever you’re a professional and getting endorsements and getting paid for what you do.”