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Name, Image, & Likeness With North Carolina's May

Guest Sean May, North Carolina; Jim Cavale, INFLCR
15:36 min watch


North Carolina Director of Men’s Basketball Operations Sean May sits down with INFLCR Founder & CEO Jim Cavale to discuss the Tar Heels adding INFLCR’s NIL Suite, using his student-athlete experience to advocate for current student-athletes, the “Carolina Effect” on brand building, support from administration in preparing for the NIL era and more.


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.

  • - As one of the first INFLCR partners, what led you to add the NIL Suite?
  • - How are you using your student-athlete experience to advocate for these young men that you're now leading through the North Carolina program that you once played for?
  • - How are you reinforcing what INFLCR does to provide your student-athletes with the platform to grow their brand on social?
  • - How are you communicating the "Carolina Effect" in the recruiting process through your coaching staff?
  • - How is the athletics administration supporting you and what you want to accomplish for the men's basketball program in the NIL era?
  • - How are you as a staff communicating the NIL and social media significance of a brand like North Carolina to current and prospective student-athletes?
  • - How important is it to have the top-down leadership from AD Bubba Cunningham to empower the basketball program to be in front of NIL changes?

Full Transcript


Jim Cavale: Everybody here at INFLCR is excited to have Sean May and North Carolina basketball join me today for a discussion around NIL. And here is the deal: North Carolina is one of the first ever INFLCR partners. And in addition to having our core platform, they’ve been one of the first college basketball programs to add our new NIL Suite. And so I’m just pumped to talk to Sean today about the NIL movement that’s upon us.


Sean, great to have you. Thanks for making time. And I really want to start with the forward-thinking social media branding aspects you brought to Carolina, because you were one of the first to adopt INFLCR when we launched the company back in 2017. And now you’ve made this investment into our NIL suite as one of the first college basketball programs to add that to your INFLCR account.


Coach Sean May: Well Jim, you know I’ve always reflected back on when I was a player, and what I wish we had. Being able to…for players being able to tell their story instead of having to put it out on ESPN or whatever your local site is. So, we were in the Bahamas and I saw that piece that you guys had done with Kentucky, and I just did some more research and just thought it was really cool and the platform that you guys have. And, you know I went sight unseen and just told Coach “hey, this is what we need to think about doing in helping our guys build their brands.” I think for a long time, even as a professional athlete, you don’t realize that you are a brand. And how early you can get that brand started can help you in the long run, create opportunities, create partnerships, friendships, and relationships that I think can last you a lifetime and benefit you greatly.


And so that’s one thing I wanted to do, is reach out to you. And, we had some conversations about not only getting us involved, and now we have an athletic department-wide deal with you guys that I think positions us to help our athletes across the board. And those opportunities and those doors are open because we care so much about helping them build their brands.


Cavale: Yeah, I remember that first meeting. It was you, Kendall, Dana, I believe. And we were going through a case study in the Bahamas. You had been there right around the same time as Kentucky, I believe, right?


May: Yeah it was like two weeks later. The case study that you showed us showed the impact that you guys had, and that Kentucky had, and all their athletes. And, at the time, I’m looking at the case study and I’m like “man, we’re missing an opportunity.” And it’s not just an opportunity: I truly believe that our opportunity to help our players helps us. And it helps in recruiting, it helps us with exposure, and so I was really glad that we were able to do that.


Cavale: So when you look at the mission of higher ed, it’s to maximize the potential of the student. And in college athletics, it’s to maximize the potential of the student-athlete. And you were a student-athlete, Sean. You won the most outstanding player award in the Final Four, won a national championship, North Carolina. And so, here we are, in the modern era (NIL is coming, brand-building is a thing now, social media is what it is). And I just want to talk about how you used your student-athlete experience to advocate for these young men that you’re now leading through the North Carolina program that you once played for.


May: Yeah I think for me, personally, I see myself in them, having gone through some of the same things that they’ve gone through. Luckily and fortunately enough for me, it would have worked at the place that I played. And so, I look at those opportunities that I didn’t have, and then even as a professional athlete when the social media stuff started to roll around, looking at ways in which we can help those guys. I have a great relationship with our players, I see most of them as younger brothers rather than a coach. I don’t let them call me Coach because I’m not a coach. So for me, it’s about helping them. Obviously we have an agenda as a program in what we want and the type of kids that we want, and the character we want to build, but the players have an agenda as well. And I think that it’s my job to be the liaison between the players and our staff, and helping them merge their agenda with ours. And, for a lot of them it’s helping them build their brands. Obviously most of our guys have….they want to get to the League, and have a foresight of trying to get there and work hard to achieve those goals, but with that comes the opportunity for them to build their brands and position themselves so when they get there they can capitalize on some opportunities. 


Cavale: You know, Sean, I was speaking to a big time college football partner of ours yesterday, and I’m speaking to the team, and I asked everybody, “raise your hand if you want a hundred thousand followers.” And of course, everybody raises their hand. And I said, well, “raise your hand if you want a six hundred pound deadlift.” And everybody raised their hand. And I said, “the commonality between both of those is they both take a ton of effort and work to get that result.” I think a lot of guys think that you have to put in work to get the result on the field or court and maybe in the weight room, but that social media can just come naturally. You can just get followers, and once you have them, you can get them to engage. But the reality is, you’ve got to work at it. It’s a game just like the game on the field or court. And I’ve seen your players game it on social. Even a guy like Cole Anthony, who came in with a huge following, a five star recruit. I saw him work on social: daily Instagram stories, weekly posts really showing the variety of who he is, not just as an athlete, but beyond that. Talk about how you reinforce what INFLCR does to provide them with the platform to grow their brand on social.


May: They are. They are. And, it’s really cool to see the different approaches guys take. Cole was very strategic, you can tell, obviously, both his parents are very active on social, his dad being a player and a commentator, his mom and all the philanthropy work that she does, they’re very intelligent with what they put out, how they put it out, timing. So I think it’s great to see that approach, there’s all different types of approaches. And I try to implore our guys to be extremely active, be transparent, let your fans and your people get to know you. It’s not all about just game shots and game photos: let them get to know you, some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that we do as a department, or as a program. We want to continue to push out more content for them, and that’s the beauty of INFLCR, being able to just have that steadily available for them whenever they want it. They have an opportunity to really capitalize. But for us, we want to be in the forefront, we know how important this space is. I think the beauty of us is our administration knows how important this space is, and having those opportunities for our players. 


Cavale: So, Sean, listen, INFLCR isn’t just that technology platform that provides content to student-athletes and teams. It’s also a platform that measures the usage and impact of that content on social media. The metrics around the brand growth of your student-athletes, and your team collectively, is amazing. And the Carolina effect is a real thing when it comes to the brand building that a student-athlete can experience if they choose to play at UNC. So I got to ask you, how are you communicating this in the recruiting process through your coaching staff?


May: Yeah and you know, when it comes to recruiting and understanding these kids, you know, the first thing we do is we follow them on social. It really helps us get a better feel of who they are and what they’re about. And then, as a program, being able to showcase to them, “this is what guys in your positions have had,” had guys like Cole that have had similarities to you, big followings like you. Or maybe it’s someone like Kenny Williams who didn’t have a big following, and what they’re able to leave with: having 60-70 thousand followers, huge engagements with the fans and connectivity with fans. And so, in recruiting, and especially in this space as we get with the NIL and trying to figure out how to navigate that, it positions us to really be able to have a real impact. It positions us to have a lot of information, because I think right now, that’s where we’re at in this stage. It’s gathering information around how we can navigate this space. And being able to particularly tell parents, tell families, tell kids how we can help them. You know, we obviously want them to come here, get a great education, first of all, be a part of a great family and a great program, but how we can help them build their brands and create opportunities that can last a lifetime. 


Cavale: Sean, you’ve been an advocate for INFLCR with the athletic department, all the way to the point where Bubba Cunningham, your AD, has really displayed a lot of top-down leadership on the importance of INFLCR for all teams, all athletes, and now taking advantage of the NIL Suite for multiple sports, including men’s basketball. So just talk about your relationship with athletics, and how athletics supports you and what you want to accomplish for the men’s basketball program in the NIL era.


May: I just think it’s that important. I think we’re at an opportunity and a place where we’re navigating a place that’s truly unknown. And, you know I look at it as a partnership. I think that’s one of the reasons why you guys probably chose us to be one of the first ones: it’s because I think there’s passion on both sides to figure this out. You being an athlete, me being an athlete, how can we both help athletes navigate this? And I think that’s one of the coolest things about working here is, we didn’t have to convince people that this was something that was needed. Bubba came to us and said “hey, I want you guys to help me figure out how we can do this and what we’re able to do with this NIL pilot program.” And so, I love being extremely involved, I’m going to continue being extremely involved because I think it’s that important. I think for kids like myself, who played…and, don’t get me wrong, the education, the experiences that I’ve had and I was able to get at North Carolina I wouldn’t trade for the world. But there’s a lot of money out there that can be made, and it can help kids. We want to be able to help them find those opportunities and navigate this space the right way.


Cavale: Sean, basketball is a sport different than really any of the others when it comes to social media and athlete brand power. We’ve seen that with the NBA. And the difference between athletes in the NBA’s voices versus other sports like the NHL or Major League Baseball, or even the NFL. But in college, there is a dramatic difference as well. There’s a lot of opportunity for you to show prospective student-athletes (recruits) how TV, and the fact that Carolina is on national television every game, social media and the following that comes with Carolina nation, and how those things compare to a choice like maybe going to the G-League and not being able to take advantage of linking yourself to that Carolina effect, to that brand power. Talk about your understanding of all of this and how you as a staff really try to be able to communicate it to your current student athletes. And, of course, recruits.


May: Absolutely. And I think the thing that we always try to articulate and to make sure they understand, first and foremost, we know you’re talented enough. If you’re in the talks with us, or some of these other Blue Bloods schools, we know that you’re talented enough to get to the next level. It’s not about getting there. It’s about being there….it’s about getting there and being prepared to stay there when that opportunity presents itself. And that’s where I think we try to position ourselves better than anybody: we want to teach you how to play the game, we want to teach you to have longevity, but there’s so much more that comes with that. How to act off the court, how to represent yourself, your family, this university: all those things are important. So, yes you can go to the G-League and you may make a little money right away, but we like for our guys to get there, stay there, be there a long time, have a long, lengthy career. And for us, coming to a place like North Carolina, being on the big stage, playing in the biggest rivalry in sports, regardless. Playing against Duke at Cameron, playing here against Duke, there’s no other stage that’s bigger. And, you perform well, you’re going to reap those benefits. And as somebody who’s done it and had the opportunity, there’s no place like it. And, so for us, we want to get the right kids, it’s about getting the kids that want to be here, that want to be in school. I do think the NBA, at some point….that rule will change, and kids should have the opportunity to go right to the League right away. But, there’s no mistaking that you can build your brand and build it better by going to college in a place like North Carolina and then having the opportunity to establish yourself with a fanbase, with the community, that’ll last the rest of your life. It’s like no other.


Cavale: No doubt, Sean. And I think, you know, when the recommendations for the NCAA’s NIL regulations came out back in April, you and I started texting and catching up and…it became real that this is going to happen in 2021. And I think some departments, some leadership groups and certain universities may take a lot longer to adjust than others. And it’s really a top-down thing. Head coaches, athletic directors have to embrace this, and you have one in Bubba Cunningham that’s doing that. So talk about how important is to have the top-down leadership from Bubba to help empower basketball in your program at UNC to be in front of this.


May: Yeah so I think, how I think us as a program, we want to be positioned is we want to be there with a clear edge of knowing how this is going to work. And I think that’s part of the dialogue between us. And you guys and Bubba, that’s been instrumental. I think Bubba’s doing the right thing: he has to prepare for both sides in saying that hey, with the guidelines that he has right now, he doesn’t see, maybe doesn’t see this working in that way. But let’s prepare ourselves for it as if it is going to work. And, that’s what we’re doing now, by the partnership we have with you guys being able to understand the metrics of how we can help kids and position themselves. So for me, I’m extremely grateful for where we’re at right now, being in the forefront of this, being prepared, and being able to articulate to kids how we can help them and our program can help them. How I see NIL working, you know, there’s so many unknowns but one thing just from being active on social and seeing how other influencers are able to capitalize on their following and their name, image, and likeness, I feel like social is going to be a huge piece of that, if not the piece, and the biggest piece. I don’t see a ton of college athletes having a bunch of national campaigns. There’ll be a few guys, but I think the majority of college athletes that are going to benefit from this will be in the social spectrum. And, so being able to understand that space, being able to help guys navigate those opportunities I think will put us in a great position.


Cavale: I really appreciate you making the time today, man. I always enjoy rapping with you on these topics. You have so much wisdom to offer. And ultimately, I just am so excited about INFLCR’s partnership with UNC athletics and men’s basketball as we go into this new era of name, image, and likeness.


May: Absolutely Jim, glad to work with you guys. You guys have lived up to everything that you said and delivered on everything that you said, so I look forward to seeing where we can go from here.