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Helping Student-Athletes Build Their Brands With Pitt’s Capel

Guest Jeff Capel, Pitt; Jim Cavale, INFLCR
14:04 min watch


Pitt Head Men’s Basketball Coach Jeff Capel sits down with INFLCR Founder & CEO Jim Cavale to discuss brand building for student-athletes, the impacts of branding and social media on recruiting, the changes NIL will bring and much 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.
  • - What led your decision to partner with INFLCR and add the NIL Suite offering?
  • - How you approach how your student-athletes should represent themselves and Pitt on social media?
  • - How has the digital evolution impacted your style or recruiting?
  • - How are you involving and including brand building, social media, in the recruiting process when you communicate with recruits?
  • - What do you want people to think when they see the Pitt men's basketball logo?
  • - With so many unknowns about NIL, how do you think it will work?
  • - How do you weigh a prospective student-athlete's emphasis on social media during the recruiting process if it potentially has as much weight as playing time?

Full Transcript


Jim Cavale: Welcome to the INFLCR Studios here in Birmingham, Alabama, at our headquarters. I’m Jim Cavale, we’re super pumped about some of the developments we’ve had in our content production operation over the past few months. And, a lot of content coming at you this year in regard to name, image, and likeness, among other important topics around athlete brand building, what we care about so much here at INFLCR. 


So today I’m going to be joined by Jeff Capel, the head basketball coach at Pitt. And, Coach Capel, first off, I got to ask you, INFLCR is new for you. You made this decision in 2020 when many programs were trying to figure out how to alter their budgets to adjust to the pandemic. You’ve gone all in on building the brands of your athletes and preparing them for name, image and likeness through this partnership we’ve put together, that not only includes INFLCR’s core product and technology, but the NIL suite that we’ve rolled out. Talk about why you made this decision.


Jeff Capel: Well, really, it’s an investment into our players, the name, image and likeness. You know, I’ve always been a big proponent of that. I think student-athletes should be like the regular students and be able to capitalize off of that. And, you know, for here in our program, we want our program to always be about our player’s best interests, and knowing the history or learning about, I should say, the history of INFLCR, and the impact that it can have in teaching our guys how to utilize social media to the maximum of their abilities is something that we wanted to partner with, with our program, to help maximize opportunities for our student-athletes.


Cavale: Yeah, Coach, I mean, we talk all the time about the fact that social media has really become your digital character footprint. Whether you like it or not, on digital, if people want to find you, they go to your social media, they look at your username, your profile, they look at the past posts and things that you’ve really communicated, and they they make a judgment on who you are. And of course, if you play sports, you have a spotlight and attention that brings people to your social media in bigger quantities and in bigger quality as far as how often and how much time they spend looking at you as an athlete. 


And so, the core principles and values that you have as a program should really translate into these core principles and values that your student athletes have on social media. How do you approach that? What do you talk to them about in regard to their character, digitally, on social, how they represent themselves and the University of Pittsburgh?


Capel: Yes, it is something that we definitely do talk about. You know, we recognize it’s important to them. And this the primary way that they communicate, you know, it’s so different from their and my time, and things like this is how they communicate. And in order for us to build the relationship, we have to learn, as adults, to communicate in their way. Also teaching them the value of it, teaching them how to…how to utilize it properly. And teaching them an understanding. Understanding that they’re going to make mistakes. 


And I believe as a coach, you have all these teachable moments. And certainly the use of social media, there are a lot of teachable moments there. And we want to make sure that we’re constantly helping them. Again, our priority is always our players. How do we help them get better? How do we help them grow both on and off the court? How do we teach them how to utilize everything that comes their way to help them grow as young people and eventually help them become men and help them navigate the real world?


Cavale: Coach, what’s funny is you’ve really played and coached in so many different eras. Obviously playing in the 90’s, “He lets it fly…Oh!” One of my favorite plays that was ever made in college basketball came from your fingertips, but you also coached throughout the 2000s and 2010s at different universities. You’ve seen recruiting on both sides, at all levels, in all eras. And here we are, social media has really become the centerpiece of recruiting in so many ways: how you communicate with athletes, how you’re going to show them you’re going to help them on social media and with their brand with NIL now. How has it changed recruiting for you? Talk about that evolution of social, how it’s impacting your style of recruiting?


Capel: Well, every kid that we recruit is on social media, every one of them. And I’ve always felt that recruiting is about building relationships. It’s about getting to know a kid, understanding what he likes, understanding the things that motivate him, that push him. And understanding the connection. And so to me, if you want to have a chance of being successful at recruiting then you have to understand social media and you have to understand how to navigate it.


Cavale: And with that recruiting strategy, Coach, you have this reality that social media and brand building now is now one of the main categories that’s part of this arms race of recruiting, right? It’s facilities. It’s playing time, and playing style, and the teammates that you’re going to have athletically. It’s academics, and the major, and program you’re going to be able to study to set you up for the rest of your life educationally, right? And now brand building is in that conversation. NIL in that conversation. INFLCR’s partnered with you to help you prepare, communicate, and execute on an amazing NIL experience for your student athletes. How are you involving and including brand building, social media, in the recruiting process that you communicate with recruits?


Capel: Well, just helping them to understand. You know, look, over the last five years, everything has changed. And a big reason is because of social media. And when we talk about our program, we want our brand to be associated with things that are going to promote our program. When people think about Pitt basketball, I want them to think about toughness, fighting, gritty, playing together, smart, fighting for our city. And there’s no better way than to tell our story than by social media. We can help control that narrative. And by having something like INFLCR, again, it teaches our guys different ways to capitalize on their name, image, and likeness for the four years that they’re here. But also something that can help build their own personal brands as they leave the University of Pittsburgh.


Cavale: I love it, Coach. You literally stole my next question, or at least a little bit of the answer you elaborated on to this question. But I still want to ask because I think it’s real important. When I look at the Air Jordan logo, there’s something I think about that brand. When I look at the Nike logo, the the Under Armour logo, Chick-fil-A, I think certain things right. Excellence, athletic prowess, training. What do you want people to think when they see the Pitt men’s basketball logo?


Capel: Well, our logo, our brand is fighting, toughness, gritty, blue collar, intelligent, and doing everything we can to win. Being all in. Being together. And one of the incredible things about social media now is you have a chance to tell your own story. One of the reasons that we’ve invested in it is because we understand this is a big opportunity to invest in our young people, also to invest in our programs so we can tell our story, so we can get our brand out there the way that we want it out there, and get people to believe in it and to want to be a part of it.


Cavale: So, Coach, getting back to NIL and there’s all these unknowns, right? There’s recommendations for legislation. There’s other forms of legislation outside of the NCAA recommendations, state wise, federally. We don’t know exactly how it’s going to work. We know it’s going to happen. And at the end of the day, I’m a big believer (I’m a broken record with this), our mission is shared: it’s to empower and maximize the potential of the student-athlete. So in your mind, based on that mission, how should this work?


Capel: You know, that’s a hard question to answer, because there are so many unknowns. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work. But I know that it will work. And the powers that be will figure out how to navigate that. The proper ways that it’s…it works both for the student-athletes and also for the universities, where it meets compliance standards. I’m just really excited that the NCAA has made this step. I think it’s a long time coming. Also, you don’t know how it’s going to go, in the post-COVID era, that’s something that I don’t think anyone ever anticipated or thought of. And so I think there are a lot of things out there that we still have to figure out how to navigate through. I’m just glad that we’re in the boat, you know, trying to figure out how to make this happen now.


Cavale: Coach, like anything, social media can can dominate people and spawn out of control, right? And we’ve seen that, we’ve seen that a lot of ways where student athletes, pro athletes have misused social media, they’ve abused it. I would argue that if you don’t use it at all, you’re kind of abusing it, too, because you’re not making the most of your platform. But there’s a right and wrong way to do it. And sometimes, coaches tell me that that social media becomes a part of the recruiting conversation to the extent where it’s on the same level as playing time. I mean, if a student athlete approaches it that way with you, like, how do you address that? Because obviously you want to have a proactive approach with social like you’ve talked about. It’s extraordinary and remarkable how intentional you are. But at the same time, you don’t want it to dominate the team.


Capel: I probably wouldn’t recruit you, to be completely honest, if you didn’t care about playing time. And if you only cared about that, then you’re probably not a person that I would want. But you know, what I would say is we are going to do everything we can to give you the opportunity to maximize your brand. But also, we want you to be a part of our brand and understand what the Pitt brand can do for you. Understand what the Pitt brand can help you learn how to navigate your brand, to build your brand, and hopefully at some point how to elevate your brand. But look, our thing is going to be the same. We want guys that want to be a part of something. We want guys that want to compete, that are about toughness and are about winning, and winning at a high level. I’m a big believer that if you do that, that’s how you build the brand. You know, if you look at sports, the guys that truly are the people, men and women that truly have a brand, they’re usually associated with winning. And so we want to win and we feel like if we win, then everyone to have a chance to really build their brand.


Cavale: The great thing about this conversation and the objective we have together, which is to build the Pitt men’s basketball brand, to build the brands of your student athletes, is it really aligns well with the mission that I know you have, not only to maximize the potential of these young men that you lead, but to win games and have success on the court. And the great part about it is, the more success you and your team have on the court, the more attention and eyeballs are on your program and the more opportunity your student athletes have to build a brand collectively that represents your program the way that you’ve talked about today. And that’s what I’m most excited about here at INFLCR, and my team and I cannot wait to really serve Pitt men’s basketball in all the ways we’re going to, through our technology and beyond, over the years to come. So thank you for our partnership and thank you for spending time with me today.


Capel: And we’re incredibly excited to be partners with you. We think it’s going to work out mainly for our student-athletes and for the young men in our program. And like I said, this is an investment into them, into their futures. And we’re excited about the partnership.


Cavale: All right. That was Jeff Capel, the head men’s basketball coach at Pitt, one of hundreds of INFLCR team partners that we are going to feature over the next few years as we produce content here at the INFLCR Studios at our headquarters in Birmingham. We want to bring you the mindset of coaches, athletes, and ultimately those who we serve with the INFLCR platform. So hopefully you enjoyed this, and if you can make sure you share it on social, share it with peers so that we can use this thought leadership from these amazing men and women who lead college sports so that we can all get better. Thank you again for spending time with us today. We’ll be back very soon.