Sep 23, 2023 - Sports

Deionomics: Coach Prime is big business in Colorado

Photo illustration of an arrow rising out of Deion Sanders' sunglasses.

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Deion Sanders has led the Colorado Buffaloes to an early 3-0 record in his first year in Boulder, making them the buzz of college football. He's also sparked his own economic engine — directly and indirectly — around apparel, tickets, betting, TV ratings and more.

The big picture: Sanders — aka "Coach Prime," a derivative of Sanders' "Prime Time" nickname as an explosive NFL player — has never been shy about promoting his brand.

  • As a coach, he's using social media, endorsements and an Amazon Prime Video documentary to help turn his image, quotes — and even slights by others— into dollars.

State of play: Sanders signed a five-year, $29.5 million contract with Colorado, but he's cashing in on his likeness, persona and even catchphrases.

  • His sunglasses line with Blenders Eyewear made $4.5 million in sales after Colorado State coach Jay Norvell criticized Sanders for wearing sunglasses in a press conference, according to Front Office Sports.
  • This week, Sanders filed paperwork for four trademarks — for the phrases "Coach Prime," "Prime Effect," "It's Personal," and "Daddy Buck," according to a report from trademark attorney Josh Gerben.
  • Some of those Coach Prime's catchphrases already have appeared on shirts.
  • Even before he began his college coaching career at Jackson State, Sanders was a popular endorser in TV commercials, based on his career as a Hall of Fame cornerback in the NFL.
  • Now his profile in commercials has soared: During college football games, Sanders hawks AFLAC insurance, KFC, athletic apparel, and more.

Of note: The exposure Sanders has brought the university since the season started is worth more than $90 million, CU Boulder chief spokesperson Steve Hurlbert told the Daily Camera in Boulder.

The intrigue: The head coach isn't the only Sanders making money off the Buffs' recent success.

  • His two sons, starting quarterback Shedeur, and Shilo, a cornerback, are among the top NIL (name, image and likeness) earners on the team.
  • Shedeur has the highest NIL valuation among college football players at $5.2 million, while Shilo's is estimated at $719,000, according to On3, a news and data site covering college sports.

Zoom in: Sales of Colorado Buffaloes gear in the team's online store have jumped 505% since December, Hurlbert tells Axios.

  • Sales so far this month are 764% above the full revenue in September 2022 — making September 2023 the biggest month ever on the team's website.
  • The university has sold 22,457 season tickets, which were sold out for the first time in 27 years — only the ninth time in school history.

What they're saying: "Coach Prime appears to be saying, 'You're not going to appropriate me, and you're not going to be the only one to make money at the expense of my style,' " Ibram X. Kendi, author of "How to Be an Antiracist," tells Axios.

  • Kendi said others have tried to monetize their branding, but Sanders is on another level. "If it were up to me, coaches would be focused on coaching, as opposed to monetizing their influence."

Yes, but: Carl Suddler, an associate professor of history at Emory University, tells Axios that Sanders is an "economic machine" not just for himself, but also for Boulder's economy and CU's athletics,.

Between the lines: It's unclear whether Deionomics is replicable model for other college programs.

  • Sanders was a star, multi-sport athlete at Florida State before turning pro to play in the NFL and Major League Basesball. He eventually became the only athlete to play in both the World Series and the Super Bowl. He played on two Super Bowl champions, in San Francisco and Dallas.
  • "In many ways as a player, he was certainly one of one, and it may very well be that Colorado has struck gold in their ability to acquire a head coach, who in this day and age, may very well be one of one, again," Suddler said.

What's next: The Buffaloes will face what's likely their most formidable opponent so far this season, traveling to Oregon on Saturday to play the No. 10th-ranked Ducks.

  • It gets even tougher next week, when they play 5th-ranked USC.

Correction: This article previously stated that Sanders was featured in a Netflix documentary. The documentary is on Amazon Prime Video.

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