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How Deion Sanders Turned University of Colorado Football Into an A-List Attraction

The sidelines at the University of Colorado football games have resembled Grammy and Oscar week in L.A. since Deion Sanders, aka “Coach Prime,” took over as head football coach this season. A-listers from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Kawhi Leonard have shown up to see the Buffaloes run the field, and the star power is poised to continue as the team takes on UCLA at the already sold-out Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena on Saturday.

“I can assure you as a sports commentator and reporter for years, I’ve never had any reason to talk about the University of Colorado football,” says Stephen A. Smith, host of ESPN’s First Take. “Never thought about it until he arrived there. I’d never been to Boulder, Colorado, in my life. I’ve already been there twice. When you look at it from that perspective, you just can’t say enough about the job that Sanders has done and the attention that he’s drawn to the football program.”

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The “Coach Prime” effect seen at Colorado builds on the momentum that began when Sanders, the only athlete to play in both the World Series and the Super Bowl, became head coach of the Jackson State University Tigers on Sept. 21, 2020. Behind-the-scenes videos of team practices and other moments posted to the YouTube channel Well Off Media, run by Sanders’ eldest son, Deion Sanders, Jr., started gaining traction with views in the tens of thousands one year ago. Now similar footage showing the current Buffaloes football team has viewership numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

“I would love to take credit for magnifying it, but honestly, it’s so authentic it took on a life of its own,” says Sanders’ business partner and manager Constance Schwartz-Morini, CEO and partner of talent management firm SMAC Entertainment. “What I mean by that is we didn’t reach out to Big Noon or Game Day or 60 Minutes or any of these folks. It was all truly incoming, and same with the guests that came in.”

Those guests have included rappers like Offset, DaBaby, Master P and Waka Flocka Flame and pro athletes such as Lou Young, DeSean Jackson and the entire Philadelphia 76ers basketball team.

“What’s interesting is for the most part they were all his friends before,” explains Schwartz-Morini. “We’ve gotten some calls from agents and reps, that said, ‘Hey, can so-and-so come and get the same treatment as Offset or DaBaby?’ And I said, ‘Do they have a relationship with him like Offset or DaBaby?’ These relationships predated what was going on here in Colorado.

“When Dany Garcia and The Rock [acquired] the XFL [in 2020], they came to Jackson State, and they did their combine for the XFL there. So that’s what I mean by relationships. Whether it’s Offset or DaBaby or Rick Ross, or Little Wayne, who’s literally like his little brother, those are his real friends.”

The presence of additional stars such as Anthony AndersonGunna, Key Glock and Wu Tang Clan has paid off in tangible ways for the University of Colorado, which has seen a 42 percent increase in first year out-of-state applications. CU’s football Instagram account, which was just shy of 63,000 followers the day Coach Prime was hired, now has over 1 million followers and merchandise sales are up 74 percent over 2022 and 117 percent over 2021. Following its season-opening win against TCU, Colorado sold $430,000 in single-game football tickets on Saturday, Sept. 2 alone and officially sold out its entire season for the first time in history on Sept. 19. The Buffaloes have also surpassed Ohio State as the most expensive college football ticket with an average price of $517. VIPs receive a special credential in the form of Prime Passes, gold whistles they wear around their necks that mimic the one Sanders uses in practice.

“He came up with those,” says Schwartz-Morini. “I was like, ‘Are we really putting these huge whistles on our VIPs necks?’ But everyone is so excited to rock them. It’s actually great branding.”

The experience of being at the game is equally exciting, says Smith. “I loved it, personally. I was sitting in his box with Shannon SharpeOmari Hardwick, Cam’ron. You had people coming from all over the place just to watch him. Chauncey Billups, the head coach for the Portland Trailblazers, was there, former athletes and Hall of Fame players, like Michael Irvin, Terrell Owens, the list goes on and on. Everybody was clamoring there to support him because we all want him to win. We understand how important it is for him to succeed.”

As Smith points out, the odds were stacked against Sanders from day one, when he inherited a team with a 1-11 record. He recruited 86 new players, including his sons Shilo and Shedeur Sanders, choosing to keep just 10 of the team’s scholarship players. The moves are paying off both on the field — the Buffaloes have a 4-3 record this season — and off: the team posted its best term GPA ever with a 2.932 last spring semester.

As endorsement opportunities, name-image-and-likeness deals and media attention continue to pour in for Coach Prime and the Buffaloes, Schwartz-Morini is focused on just one thing when asked what the future of the program holds: “We’ve got to get two more wins to make it to a bowl game,” she says.

No matter the outcome of Saturday’s game, Sanders’ impact at Colorado has already been cemented in college football and pop culture history. “I’ve never been a part of anything this big and I’ve been to 30 Super Bowls,” says Schwartz-Morini. “It’s bigger than sports. It’s a cultural movement.”

Season 2 of the docuseries Coach Prime begins streaming on Prime Video on December 7.

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