How Deion Sanders Uses Social Media to Transform College Football
RockWater analysis to make you a better investor and operator. Today we discuss how Deion Sanders, and his social media apparatus and “reality TV star” personality, are transforming the UC Buffs football program.
by Chris Erwin
In the modern media landscape, personalities have outsized impact in driving audience reach and engagement. This in turn drives new and greater revenue opportunities.
This is particularly true in sports media.
There are many recent case studies, from F1’s Drive to Survive series on Netflix boosting the company’s reach to Western and youth audiences and Lebron launching his own media / investment vehicle in SpringHill, to Logan Paul’s impact on the WWE and House of Highlights launching Creator League, and much more.
The newest data point is Deion “Prime Time” Sanders signing up as coach to overhaul the University of Colorado Buffaloes (aka Buffs) football organization.
This news excites me since historically the news coverage has focused on the talent on the field…the players, drivers, wrestlers, boxers, etc, and how they move the audience and revenue needle for leagues and teams. Further, when combined with new NIL and transfer portal rule changes, it’s an exciting preview into new emerging strategy and business models for sports media and fans.
Let’s dive into it…
- The UC Buffs were the worst performing team amongst major conferences in 2022. They only won one game and lost the other 11 by an average of 32 points!
- Management thus fired past coach Karl Dorrell in October 2022, and recognized an urgent need to overhaul and completely reenergize the team.
- Management soon looked to Deion Sanders, who’s recent success with the Jacksonville Jaguars caught their eye. 2 things stood out about Sanders…
- Impressive pedigree; he played in both the NFL and MLB, and is the only active coach who’s also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- His larger than life personality. This quote sums it up well…“Sanders is part football legend, part reality TV star. He declares, “I ain’t hard to find”—and wears T-shirts bearing the phrase to practice. Cameras follow his every move to record content for his social-media accounts, run by his eldest son Deion Sanders Jr., and his docuseries on Amazon’s Prime Video. He also hosts a weekly podcast with Barstool Sports.” → That’s a large media footprint!
- Of note, Sanders’ coaching career is limited. He coached a few Texas highschools before taking over as coach of Jackson State University. But his results there were impressive. When Sanders left, the Jaguars had won two Southwestern Athletic Conference championships and had lost only three games in two seasons.
- It was clear that Sanders fit the bill, and was quickly hired in Dec 2022 (he accepted without setting foot on campus!). He quickly refashioned the image of the team and did an extreme offseason lineup makeover via the transfer portal.
Sanders’s Quantifiable Impact on UC Buffs Football
- By January, just one month after Sanders was hired, 20,000 people had filled out season ticket interest forms.
- In late April the football program announced it sold out of 2023 season tickets, the earliest date for that to happen in program history. The last sell-out season was 1996. Last season the Buffs were ranked 51st in attendance in major college football, but that ranking will climb this year.
- Colorado football’s official Twitter account now has more than 167,000 followers, a 68% jump since Sanders joined in Dec. I also saw that Deion is featured on the Twitter profile banner image…unlikely many other college programs are doing the same for their head coach!
- Apparel sales through the retailer @Fanatics jumped 525% in December 2022 VS the prior year.
- There were 47,277 fans at the sold-out Folsom Field stadium for their annual Black & Gold Day (VS just 1,950 for the prior year!). Further, that Spring game was the only one ESPN choose to televise on its main channel during the offseason!
- After Sanders used social media to call out the lack of grits at local breakfast shops around town, his fave breakfast staple has now been added to the menu of nearly ever local morning eatery. Hmm, could there be a Sanders / Buffs-branded grits launch? I’d say it’d be more likely if the food product was a longer standing component of local fan history and experience in town. But perhaps give it a few years and maybe there will be enough lore and grits fans for a future branded grits launch…
Social Media Tactics Breakdown
- Sanders has a YouTube channel called Well Off Media, which is run by his eldest son. The channel has 287,000 subscribers, and publishes videos multiple times per week. My anecdotal review shows average video views ranging from 150,000 to 350,000. The content is primarily sports BTS, showcasing Sanders day-to-day as a coach and other members of the overall football program, mixed in with Sanders family dynamics. It’s content optimized for social media hits. These recent video titles explain the dynamics well…
- Rick Ross Visits Prime Time in Colorado
- Coach Prime Makes His Coaches Run For Losing
- First Day Of Coach Prime & CU Buff’s Spring Ball
- Deion Sanders & His Kids HAVE A CRAZY Family Phone Conversation
- The Sanders-run media footprint is big asset, particularly in helping to recruit players recently emboldened by new NIL laws. The following quote explains this dynamic well…”In this new era of college sports, in which athletes can make money on endorsements, social media followers are a currency. The larger the audience, the larger the influencer’s paycheck. Being associated with Sanders—be it appearing on the field or making cameos on Well Off Media, the YouTube channel run by his eldest son—could literally line a player’s pockets. That’s an attractive reality to recruits.”
- To the final point above, Sanders has been very active in reshaping the team in the offseason via new transfer portal rules. Specifically, the Buffs have signed 28 players to date, the most out of any other college football org. But it’s a 2-way street, and 23 players from CU had also submitted their names to the transfer portal. It makes the Buffs one of the most fluid team rosters within college football, and Sanders is focused on recruiting those who want to lean in and shape the future of the team.
- Sanders is also aggressively recruiting new coaches, even convincing some to take a half step backward, like hiring the former head coach at Kent State to become his offensive coordinator. Sanders also recruited another coach from Alabama to be his defensive coordinator. When you combine Sanders’ past success with the Jaguars, intent to rebuild an organization from the ground up, his large media presence, and overall magnetism, it creates an exciting opportunity for coaches to either (1) join a high-upside coaching org, where professional prospects are not unrealistic, and / or (2) bolster a coach’s individual cache, making them even more attractive for top-post positions at bigger schools, or even a stepping stone to the pros.
The Sanders news highlights that there are likely even more paradigms that have still yet to emerge re the impact of personality and social media in modern day sports. I’m excited to track the performance of the UC Buffs, and all the other key players that surround the program on and off the field.
Overall, it’s yet another great case study of how personalities and social media, combined with new rule changes empowering players like NIL and the transfer portal, can have an immediate and large financial impact on sports teams and their players. And that will likely inspire new models for improving the sports media and fan experience going forward.
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