Neeta Sreekanth: INFLCR, Chief Operating Officer - Work In Sports Podcast
Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp, VP of Content and Engaged Learning for WorkInSports.com and this is the Work In Sports podcasts…
So think about this for a second -- remove all your preconceived notions - remove everything you’ve been told over the years - clear your mind.
You are a 19-year old elite college athlete. A basketball star, a softball star, a football star - doesn’t matter, you are elite.
I love this dream already - I always wanted to be an elite 19-year old athlete, instead of a well, you know, a decent high school athlete who went on to a successful intramural career.
Ok, back on track, dream scenario, elite athlete…
You, the 19 year old elite athlete, start to appear in marketing materials for your university. You are selling tickets. Your jersey, with your name and number on it, is top selling merchandise, generating massive revenue. A video game company, puts your face, your body, your brand on the cover of their game...and sells millions.
You, the product generating everything, the machine that makes it all go, sees nothing.
Meanwhile, you post a video of your most recent training session on youtube -- it generates thousands of views, tons of comments… and by a mistake, you had on the option to include ads, on the video, so it generates some revenue for you.
It’s your brand, it’s you. But now you are penalized, threatened with losing your eligibility over generating revenue on yourself and for yourself.
So everyone else can profit off of you, but you can’t.
Just to clarify with some real numbers, the NCAA generates over a billion dollars yearly in just media right deals, to broadcast their events, and thee athletes upon who’s back this is generated receive a good old fashioned opportunity to gain an education - not without value, but not exactly equal either.
This scenario doesn’t have to be relegated to the elite 1% Zion Williamsons and Trevor Lawrences who end up on video games -- literally any student-athlete should be able to build a brand and monetize it. They have access, stories, fan bases and if they work to cultivate and grow that reach they should reap the benefits. Period. Full Stop. pont made. Drop the mic.
Is there nuance to my dream scenario we are overlooking, sure, but stick with the overarching scenario - the big birds eye view is far from equitable.
Now, it took 50 or so years, but we may finally be reaching a point that makes more sense for everyone.
Without getting too litigious -- the NCAA has forbade athletes from profiting off their name, image or likeness (NIL) forever. But California, who knows how to party, signed a law last year saying in our state student athletes can profit off of their NIL -- called the fair pay to play act.
Basically telling the NCAA - you don’t hold all the power.
While many college coaches and administrators started clutching their pearls, decrying the coming downfall of American civilization if athletes are allowed to, you know, make money, 30 other states passed the Fair Pay to play act -- forcing the NCAA hand.
The NCAA backed into a corner said “sure sure sure” we love that idea… we universally agree to allow student athletes to profit off their nams images and likeness in 2021.
According to research company MediaKix -- influencer marketing is a 5-10 billion dollar enterprise.
Now, let's break that down a little further -- FiveThirtyEight did what they do best -- a massive data and projection project, and put actual names and valuations together and came up with potential annual revenue numbers.
Here are some highlights -- and this is JUST BASED on a combination of Twitter and Instagram followers - there are many more ways to monetize.
- Paige Bueckers - UCONN Women's Basketball - $670,000
- Trevor Lawrence $454,000
- Haley Cruse - University of Oregon Softball Player $117,000
- Spencer Lee Iowa Wrestler -- $26,000 5’3” 125 lbs of pure muscle -- with a little over 120,000 followers.
- Dana Rettke, Wisconsin Volleyball player $12,000
The list goes on and on, this is just a sampling to show it’s not just the Zion’s who make dollar bills, it’s all athletes who build a brand and create and distribute interesting content to grow a following.
So what is this conversation all leading up to -- well, the future.
The future of sports and student-athletes is up in the air, the winds are changing, the shift in power has begun...and there is one company at the forefront of this change. Influencer -- INFLCR - who needs vowels, am I right?
INFLCR is working with over 500 college sports teams to assist the student-athletes with curating content, managing workflows and following bst practices to build their brand and monetize their very existence.
Or as USC Deputy Athletic Director Paul Perrier put it better:
“USC student-athletes have incredible stories to tell. Our partnership with INFLCR will empower all of our student-athletes to share their experiences, and give our community of fans and recruits a look behind-the-scenes at their journeys as Trojans.”
INFLCR works collectively with the schools and the athletes to create win-win scenarios -- the student-athletes monetize, while the schools build their reputation and brands concurrently. Win-win!
Now I don’t want to steal all the glory, I’m just trying to whet your appetite for today’s guest -- so I ‘ll let her explain the rest, and it;s som good stuff, here is Chief operating Officer for INFLCR...Neeta Sreekanth!
Questions for Neeta Sreekanth, INFLCR Chief Operating Officer
1: I started my detailed research of you and your background two days ago, and let’s just say, I have a lot of questions.
Your current role as COO at INFLCR is really fascinating and cutting edge so I want to start there – but we will circle back to your ESPN and Dallas Cowboys experience too. Is that cool?
Before we get into the weeds with NIL, student-athlete valuations and authentic storytelling… let’s go broad.
Explain the INFLCR platform to the audience, how it works, the purpose, and why it’s so important in our changing sports world.
2: Just to give everyone some background – the NCAA’s Board of Governors unanimously voted in favor of permitting college athletes to financially profit from the use of their names, images, and likenesses. The new NIL policy is set to go into effect in 2021.
It’s been over a decade since college athletes started saying “hey you are using my picture to make big money – that’s not cool” Finally, athletes are going to be able to capitalize.
How much did this change the game for you and INFLCR?
3: I tend to think of the value of Names, Images and Likenesses being really for the elite athletes at the elite programs with huge followings who can leverage their asset for sponsorship deals.
But you make the pitch on your site that the value of your platform and the ability to generate value extends far beyond the Power 5… so how do the lower profile student-athletes maximize their brand and revenue potential?
4: OK, so walk us through it, you were a division 1 basketball player at Cal State Northridge –if this tech was available when you were playing, how would you use it? and how would you create and develop your value, in theory?
5: I saw a picture of you with a T-shirt on that said “Storyteller” and I’ve read in multiple places where you have emphasized the “need for athletes to tell their story authentically and organically in non-monetized posts featuring editorial storytelling content.”
These words resonate with me deeply -- why is this your passion? And why is it some important for athletes to humanize themselves?
6: In this rapidly evolving era we aren’t just dealing with Coronavirus, there is also social justice issues and other causes that are on the forefront of our mind and culture.
How does INFLCR assist student-athletes in sharing their voice behind their causes too?
7: Chief Operating Officer is a big role for a changing company in a developing market – can you explain the main focuses of your role? It sounds like you have your hands in everything.
8: It feels like the sky is the limit for athlete branding and revenue development after NIL goes into effect in 2021, but nothing is that simple.
What keeps you up at night as you think about the future of INFLCR and the sports storytelling space in general?
9: On your Linkedin profile in the About section where most people put their elevator pitch, selling themselves or explaining their value, you have a very simple statement: “I’m a leader not a follower”
Why is this statement an important part of your persona?
10: Let’s go back in your journey a bit – after Cal-State Northridge you were hired by the Dallas Cowboys on their social media team. That’s a pretty big deal, starting your career with one of the most iconic brands in sports.
How did you get such a great opportunity fresh right out of college?
11: You see many different approaches to social media by sports organizations – some are funny, some are transactional, some are focused on unique access – what did you learn about best practices and their tone when you were with the Cowboys?
12: How did your Cowboys experience help form the voice and style you currently embody?
13: After the Cowboys you jumped to ESPN – still in social – how different was it to be the social megaphone for a team vs. a media entity? Did the style and objective change much?
14: At ESPN there is no shortage of content. Multiple shows, personalities, athletes in and out -- How much did you spend planning social out, versus, just being observant, in the moment, and in the right places to see things worth amplifying?
15: As much as we talk about the creative side of social media, there is also a behind the scenes data and analysis aspect – budgets, tracking campaigns, evaluating successes and failures – is that an important part for someone to learn if they want to follow in your footsteps?
16: We’ll finish up with this – you have worked for some iconic brands, ESPN, the Dallas Cowboys, and now with an emerging brand leading the way in sports storytelling at INFLCR.
You’ve been around the best in the business.
Is there a piece of advice that someone along the way gave you that has stuck with you today?
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