Prime Time: Examining the influence of one individual on sports business
By: Riley Day
September 20, 2023
The profound impact of a single individual on a sports organization is becoming increasingly evident. By extension, an effect on the business of sports as well. There are several examples in the last couple seasons of the sports calendar: Shohei Ohtani excelling as both a pitcher and hitter in the MLB, Lionel Messi singlehandedly boosting MLS ticket prices an average of 527% per game (CNN.com), but arguably the most impactful has been Deion Sanders becoming the head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes.
Deion “prime time” Sanders served as the head coach of Jackson State from 2020 to 2022, after a successful career on the field and in the booth as an analyst for CBS. He also holds the distinct honor of being the only man to play in both a World Series and a Super Bowl. He led Jackson State to an 11-2 and 12-1 record, 8-0 in their conference both years. Prior to “prime time” taking the reins of the program, they had not enjoyed a season with double-digit wins since 1996.
After inking Sanders to a five year contract at the end of the 2022 season, Colorado acquired 48 new players for the program this offseason (247 Sports), accounting for a whopping 26.2% of the PAC-12’s total transfers. ON3, a leading NIL publication, ranked the Buffs at the top of their team transfer portal index. This algorithm attempts to determine if a school has improved its overall team talent, stayed the same, or declined in talent during the transfer window. Colorado led with a score of 72, including +$6.5 million in adjusted NIL value.
Household names like Travis Hunter, the number one overall recruit in the class of 2022, and Shedeur Sanders, possible Heisman candidate and future NFL draft pick, both followed their coach from Jackson State to Colorado. The Athletic coined this year’s Colorado team “the most entertaining team in college football.” In the current NCAA landscape, considering the growing impact of NIL and the transfer portal, there are business opportunities to capitalize on the excitement and hype surrounding the program.
Photo Credit: Associated Press
Having a motivating, quotable, and charismatic leader like Sanders gives fans a natural inclination to cheer for. According to WTOP News, Sanders doesn’t just positively affect his team’s performance on the field, he has also boosted profits off the field. Merchandise sales have increased 525% from 2021. Colorado’s main athletics Instagram account has increased by 59% since September 1st, along with 29.3 million total impressions on Facebook; the team continues to reach fans of all ages and demographics.
Coach Sanders and his Colorado Buffaloes have truly become a national sensation. He recently appeared on the Season 56 premiere of "60 minutes" on September 17th and drew 11.8 million viewers, which is the highest viewership numbers for the show since 2021, according to Sport Business Journal. This appearance came after a big win for Colorado and ESPN on the day prior when Colorado beat Colorado State in double-overtime, making the game the fifth-most watched CFB game in ESPN history, per Sports Illustrated. These national appearances on prime time, no pun intended, television should only make elite recruits more likely to commit to the Buffs. With a hot 3-0 start to the season under his belt, the future is stunningly bright for Deion “prime time” Sanders and the program he put on his back.