With the NCAA poised to change its rules in January to allow athletes to earn money from their names, images and likenesses, two companies jumping into the NIL market—INFLCR and Teamworks—are seeking to help players monetize their fame with a personal touch, thanks to an exclusive partnership with the video-sharing company Cameo.
The pact between INFLCR, Teamworks and Cameo, which allows people to pay for personalized messages from their favorite celebrities, is one of the first tangible opportunities to hit the market as the college sports NIL business develops.
The deal will bring Cameo into college athletics immediately. Athletes at schools who already work with INFLCR and Teamworks (INFLCR’s parent company), will be able to use Cameo to build their brands in the months before they can actually monetize it next fall when the NCAA’s rules changes are expected to go into effect.
The companies say the athletes will maintain compliance with NCAA regulations until then by posting for free to get acquainted with the platform and start interacting with fans in preparation for the commercial monetization opportunities that will come with the rules changes. The focus, for now, is still on what INFLCR has been doing since its 2017 inception: building a brand and an audience.
“Tens of thousands of athletes [have] shared hundreds of thousands of posts through our platform to grow their audience and engagement on social media,” INFLCR CEO Jim Cavale said in an interview. “We know that’s also growing their NIL value, but we’ve never been able at the college level to help them actually realize that value because it’s not been allowed.”
Cavale said the new legislation will change the college landscape, and INFLCR’s role in it. The Cameo deal was done in anticipation of those developments. “We not only can be involved on the front end, doing the brand building that we do with student athletes,” he said, “but [also] on the back end by bringing… tangible monetary NIL opportunities directly to them.”
The partnership with Cameo was a natural one, especially given how many former college athletes get on the platform, often right after their eligibility runs out.
“To tap into that right now and being able to bring Cameo into our ecosystem while the student athletes are still in college is a really natural marriage,” Cavale added. “Cameo fits because we can bring them in today and educate student athletes on how it works before they’re monetizing anything.”
Cameo dismissed concerns about a falloff in fan interest when athletes’ appearances switch from free to paid, citing sports’ fans omnipresent interest—particularly the spike in athlete-related usage that started during the pandemic. With seasons put on pause and attendance limited, professional athletes and fans alike flocked to the platform.
College coaches, including Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Kansas’s Bill Self, have also already successfully made money as Cameo celebrities, and the company is confident that interest will extend deeper into the collegiate ranks with the addition of athletes, especially for those who get a head start.
An athlete such as Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence can enhance his future earning potential by building a Cameo audience before he can monetize it, said Cameo’s chief business officer, Arthur Leopold.
“85% of Cameos are shared. Someone like Trevor [Lawrence] can connect with fans and then have them help make him more popular [on the Cameo platform] by sharing his content. Once we’re able to turn on monetization, he’ll still have fans,” Leopold said. “Those fan bases are only going to get stronger over time. There’s always going to be a market for fans to connect with their favorite athletes, and there are also new college athletes every year.”
At an average price of $80 per appearance and a 75% split for all talent, the average Cameo celebrity earns $60 per message, video or appearance on the platform at an average of 200 posts per year. That’s a $12,000 opportunity for the average Cameo celebrity, though the earning potential and Cameo demand for college celebrities will fall in a wide range. The company estimates that the per-post price for college athletes could go from $5 to a few hundred dollars.
INFLCR currently provides video and photo management services to some 100 colleges, while Teamworks clients include more than 2,000 NCAA Division I programs including all Power Five institutions. The two companies deal with more than 3,000 combined college teams and 130,000 college athletes.
As participants receive access to a growing platform, the influx of college talent will in turn help Cameo continue to grow. In just over three years, the company has fulfilled over 1 million fan requests and, as of a mid-2019 Series B round led by VC firm Kleiner Perkins, raised over $65 million. Its valuation at the time of the raise was estimated at $300 million by the private market research company PitchBook, and while the company declined to comment on its market value, Leopold said it was “doing exceedingly well.” Others speculate it could be on pace for a $1 billion valuation in 2021 after its sharp pandemic-inspired growth.
Both INFLCR and Teamworks also boast a broad professional athlete clientele. The former works with more than 700 collegiate and professional sports teams combined, while the latter works with teams in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS and English soccer’s Premier League, among others.
While their partnership with Cameo is currently “100% focused on the college market,” Cavale said the relationship could evolve into integrating INFLCR’s and Teamworks’ pro sports work. The pair also plan to make the Cameo opportunity available to athletes who do not attend current partner schools or play for partner programs, with details to come in 2021.
More broadly, Cavale sees the Cameo partnership as a blueprint for future potential deals. “Companies can see what the roadmap looks like as far as being able to put opportunities in front of athletes,” he said.