The college football landscape has been rapidly evolving with the growth of social media platforms. Players are starting to realize the value of social media. For the inevitable NCAA Name, Image and Likeness legislation (NIL), West Virginia Football head coach Neal Brown has taken the route of "embracing it instead of complaining about it," and is evolving with the times.
Brown brought in Jeremy Darlow, a branding consultant, in April and has now hired INFLCR. This social media data-driven company compiles social media performance data to educate and develop the social media storytelling behaviors of coaches, creative staff, and student-athletes. West Virginia is the first program to partner with INFLCR.
"We have a mission statement in our program, and it's the same that it was at Troy when we helped get that program where it needed to be. And, the mission is really easy, and it's really our 'why' of our program," said Brown in an interview with Founder and CEO Jim Cavale. "I think it's really important to understand what's your 'why' and our 'why' is to serve and develop when we say, 'total Mountaineers.' And influencer has helped us serve and develop our players. We're a player's first program."
Adding, "I think it was extremely beneficial to our players at Troy and our football brand, and we brought that here, and our players have embraced it."
While INFLCR helps Mountaineer Football players build their brand, they are also helping the program tell its story.
Neal Brown has recognized since he took the job at West Virginia that he is in a unique situation. It is the only Power Five school in the state, and there are no professional teams.
"We are West Virginia's program. We are West Virginia's football team," stated Brown.
The West Virginia University logo, the "Flying WV," is one of the most recognized in the world. When people see the logo, they know it's West Virginia.
Since the day Brown took over in Morgantown, he understood the student-athletes represent not only the University and its alumni, but also the roughly 1.8 million residents in the state and wants the program to reflect the people of West Virginia when folks around the world see the "Flying WV." He wants everyone to view West Virginians as he does, "as a humble group of individuals, hardworking and overachievers."
The West Virginia athletic, social media accounts have a tremendous following considering the population of the state. Mountaineer fans are known as one of the most loyal fan bases in the country, and it's reflecting on the social media numbers.
Brown is just in year two at West Virginia and is still on the ground floor of developing the same culture he had with at Troy, where he had three consecutive 10-win seasons, and he can tell that story through social media.
"We want fun - we want positive energy - we want it to be about our players," said Brown. "We want our brand to be recognized high scoring on offense and tackling on defense. We want people to know we care. We care about our players, and we want our players to understand that they care about everything that goes into our program, and that goes into our state."
Building the football and player individual brand will give West Virginia an early edge in recruiting. Neal Brown can show recruits the growth on the Mountaineers brand building with everything they are investing in having success on and off the field.
"I think potential recruits that are coming into West Virginia have a tremendous opportunity here with NIL that maybe those other spots don't because there's competition in the market," said Brown. "Maybe they're competing with other Power Five programs – maybe they're competing with other professional teams. Where here, our student-athletes, especially football-wise, and this is true for men's basketball, and there are some other sports that don't have the same level of competition for those NIL scholars. We've chosen to embrace it. Let's educate our players. We partnered with INFLCR because I'm not an expert in branding, so let's go hire the best."
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