We’ve seen it in the professional ranks with LeBron James and Lionel Messi, where celebrity athletes can raise the tides of teams, leagues, media companies, and even countries. Now it has gravitated to college football, where casual fans are more interested in following celebrity coaches and players than teams and schools (e.g., Colorado’s astronomical TV ratings). Some schools are already ahead of the curve in the NIL era, forging partnerships with stars on their campuses to boost awareness and ingratiate their brands with the Gen Z audience (e.g., Olivia Dunne and LSU, Caleb Williams and USC).
Four weeks into the college football season and the University of Colorado Boulder is already reaping the rewards of their investment in head football coach Deion Sanders. The numbers speak for themselves, but more important are the lessons that other institutions can learn from the rise of Coach Prime and the Buffaloes.
Embracing the age of the influencer:
Differentiation leads to relevance:
Great brands are built with differentiation as their foundational principle, and there’s no doubt that Colorado has found it with Coach Prime. Media have been quick to call out the college football coaching ranks for being dominated by “old white men,” and one symptom of that trend may be the unwillingness of presidents and athletic directors to embrace candidates who are highly differentiated. We’ve already seen the impact that unique personalities like the late Mike Leach can have on programs, but still, some schools are hesitant to take that risk. Coming off a 1-11 season in 2022, Colorado knew that it needed to take that leap of faith, and as a result, one could argue that there isn’t a more relevant team in college football today.
Video content is king:
From day one, Coach Prime has had more cameras following him than the Kardashians. And that’s because he knows that video is king. It not only supports his documentary series on Amazon Prime, but it increases the likelihood of viral content that can be shared across multiple platforms and channels.
Proven NIL ROI:
While some schools are still reluctant to fully embrace Name, Image, and Likeness, Colorado and Coach Prime are innovating. It starts with compelling content. But Colorado is also showing ROI through increased follower counts for its players. More followers means more money, but it’s also a signal to star recruits that the Buffaloes have a proven formula for boosting their players’ personal brands. This explains why the top quarterback recruit was in Boulder last weekend.
The Prime Effect has extended beyond the football locker room and athletics. Central campus has implemented similar themes in its messaging to alumni, students, and donors and the results have shown not only in attendance to games but in donations and school applications.