The southeast holds a longstanding tradition of being the heartbeat of college football. In particular, the state of Alabama has long been home to some of the sport’s biggest powerhouse names.
As the sport is currently experiencing dramatic changes such as the newly instituted policy of name, image and likeness (NIL), conference realignment, the transfer portal and playoff expansion, a handful of voices have risen to the top of these discussions.
ESPN recently named two Alabamians to its list of the 11 biggest power brokers and advocates shaping the future of college football: Birmingham residents Greg Sankey and Jim Cavale.
As the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Sankey serves as one of the most authoritative voices in the game today. Being head of collegiate athletics’ most dominant conference comes with its fair share of responsibility, as well as prestige.
In discussions of the game’s ever-evolving landscape, Sankey has emerged as a go-to figure to opine on some of the sport’s most pressing issues.
Sankey, a New York native, began his collegiate athletics’ administrative career as the director of intramural sports for Utica College.
He would later go on to serve as the compliance director for Northwestern State College in Louisiana before taking his expertise to the Southland Conference. After working on compliance-related matters for the conference, he became its commissioner in 1996.
In 2002, then-SEC commissioner Mike Slive brought Sankey to collegiate athletics’ preeminent conference as associate commissioner. Upon Slive’s retirement in 2015, Sankey was elevated to the conference’s top position.
As Sankey rose to one of the most prestigious positions in the game, Cavale, a close confidant of the commissioner’s, was preparing to take the NIL space by storm. Both natives of Syracuse, N.Y., the two met and formed a friendship at Iron Tribe Fitness, which Cavale formerly served as president.
The Birmingham entrepreneur is the founder and CEO of INFLCR, called “influencer,” which has become a nationwide leader in athlete brand-building. More than 4,000 teams across the nation, consisting of collegiate and professional, utilize the company’s services. The app, which allows players to utilize in-game content to use on their social media platforms, is used by over 70,000 student-athletes.
In a recent conversation with Yellowhammer News, Cavale detailed how he recognized the potential for a cutting-edge company to bolster players’ ability to profit from their personal brand.
Ahead of the game, Cavale recognized in 2016 that “NIL was not a matter of if, but when.” The brand-building trailblazer added that he wanted to “figure out how I could enter the space and do it before NIL became a real thing.”
Understanding that the dynamics of the college sports were about to change, Cavale decided to exit the workout space at Iron Tribe Fitness and enter the world of NIL.
According to Cavale, Sankey served as an invaluable source of knowledge in providing insight regarding the game’s inevitable evolution. Upon discussions with stakeholders, Cavale found that student-athletes needed help managing their social media content.
“At that point, I was thinking that if I could help them now with social here in 2016-2017, when NIL becomes a thing, I’ll be in a position to help them with that too,” he told Yellowhammer News. “And so that’s really when INFLCR was born.”
INFLCR launched in 2017, with the University of Kentucky, Troy University, UAB, Auburn University and the University of South Carolina as its initial clients.
“We launched a product that was essentially an app for athletes to be able to access pictures and videos on-demand as they’re shot … We made the appropriate arrangements to get all that content in our servers as it’s shot so that it could then use facial recognition and tag it based on facial or number recognition,” detailed Cavale. “That way, every athlete, as they walk out of a practice or a game, they have their stuff in their INFLCR app to share.”
In just two years, INFLCR had garnered a recurring seven-figure revenue stream. Seeing the app’s success, Teamworks, another athletics-focused software company, acquired Cavale’s business in 2019. The acquiring company then gave Cavale an interest in Teamworks and tapped him to stay on as head of INFLCR.
The acquisition, Cavale noted, helped the company free up capital to pursue NIL-related services once the NCAA-instituted policy went into effect.
What was initially launched as a brand-building platform, INFLCR today has expanded its service portfolio to help student-athletes connect with NIL opportunities and support players’ efforts to expand their profitability.
Cavale advised that he opted to launch his forward-looking business in the Birmingham market due to its unique positioning at the center of the opportunity-rich southeast.
“I think a lot of people might look at Birmingham as a mid-market that could be tough to attract talent to and start a business in,” he said. “The reality is that building a business in college sports and starting it in the same city where the SEC is headquartered, and geographically an area where there are a lot of big-time college athletics programs, was a really big advantage for us. That’s why two of our first few clients were Auburn and Kentucky.”
“So I don’t know that we could have had the success of going from zero to 100 schools in two years from 2017 to 2019 if we didn’t start here in Alabama and Birmingham,” Cavale explained.
Dylan Smith is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL