COHN AI: The Coach Prime Effect

September 27, 2023

Welcome to the first edition of COHN AI, where we bring Actual Intelligence to our audience. In this day and age, artificial intelligence is dominating decision-making, but COHN stands apart with real, human expertise. Through the COHN AI series, we’ll offer our expert insights and perspectives on a variety of trending topics. To kick things off, we’ll be visiting the CU sports section.

In the world of college athletics, the name Deion Sanders, also known as ‘Coach Prime,’ has become synonymous with a new era of brand, marketing, and PR strategies. His recent hiring as Head Coach at the University of Colorado Boulder has not only transformed the football program but has also redefined the playbook for creating a buzz. Our team has thoughts on the impact Coach Prime has had on the industry.

Lisa Wieting, Chief Marketing Officer

Whether Coach Prime turns around a team in one season or the hype dies down after some humble pie, I do respect that the leadership and decision-makers at CU not only saw the need for a cultural 180, but they also took on a calculated risk by allowing Coach Prime to come in and do it his way. The dichotomy of what CU has been vs. who Coach Prime is has created a friction that ignited a spark. And when you don’t have a lot to lose, why not. 

The Ted Lasso Effect. The Wrexham Effect. The Prime Effect. It’s a classic fish out of water trope. When it fails… yeesh. But when it works… lightning. In the case of Coach Prime and CU, the upside seemingly outweighed the downside. Regardless, the leadership group knows it will be held accountable for the decisions made and they were willing to relinquish control to something completely different. That’s HARD. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unpredictable. But when you are willing to put aside fear and ego for the possibility of something great, it’s inspiring. You are seeing that in Boulder right now. I think it’s a lesson anyone in leadership can learn.

Taylor Brizendine, Account Supervisor

Being bold and outrageous can work in specific contexts. In my personal opinion, he is over the top in many ways when he communicates on social media and with the press. That said, he has garnered attention from national sources and is trending on all of the major sites. I would say that being bold and outrageous in a crafted and curated way can create a huge win for our clients.

CJ Powell, VP, Brand

​​College athletics is a multibillion-dollar industry. Successful programs generate enormous amounts of revenue that flow cash to important campus improvements, student housing, technology and innovation, faculty, research, and everything else that makes universities great. Through this lens—revenue generation for the school—a university’s football program’s goal should be to make as much money as possible, by any means possible. It’s one of the university’s most popular “products.”

For generations, the best “products” in college athletics have been branded toward tradition. Alabama. Notre Dame. Michigan. “The Hero” brand archetype has become the universally accepted tradition for how to market your product in college athletics. In the mid 1980s, the University of Miami invented a new brand archetype for collegiate athletics. Something more akin to “The Rebel” brand archetype. “The U” was cool, dangerous, different and didn’t care about the traditions of college football. 

Coach Prime has now invented a new type of brand archetype for college athletics—something more like “The Entertainer”—that is proving to be tremendously successful in generating revenue from today’s consumers. Everything is a show, and everyone is a character. If you look at what he’s doing through this brand archetype lens, then it all starts to make sense. The over-the-top “Turnover Throne” that majestically sits on the sidelines. The non-stop filming and content being produced by a team of marketers. Lil’ Wayne rapping on the field as the players enter the stadium, and ESPN, FOX and 60 Minutes all being in Boulder to ride the Prime entertainment wave. Spectacle sells in Boulder. 

Obviously, winning is an important part of the equation, and he’s an outstanding coach with talented players. But if you look beyond the gameplay, the marketing story is a new brand archetype in college football built for today’s fans and players that is selling like crazy—and achieving the primary goal of revenue generation.

Ali Lego, Chief Operating Officer

Wow… the power of one person to impact, change, and have a major influence that transcends well beyond their immediate area, extending into sponsorships, economic impact, swag/clothes (Prime sunglasses), and the rapid creation of a cultural phenomenon.

Deion Sanders has discovered relevance and a way to connect. People want to feel connected, be part of the excitement, and not feel left out. They’re eagerly joining in on the hype and craving something positive in a world filled with negativity. This gives hope for better things ahead and an opportunity to focus on the positive. He has successfully connected generations, broken down barriers, and created a common focus, fostering a sense of belonging and purpose.

My takeaway is that consistency in message and image is key across all tactics and touchpoints. Finding relevance and creating excitement can translate into results and drive action.

Lynde Scott, Production Artist

Coach Prime is charismatic and really knows how to capitalize on the spotlight he’s receiving. He may not be the best coach out there, or the most successful football player, or the best sunglasses model, but right now, it’s all anyone is talking about. His perspective of “If you look good, you feel good” has some truth to it. As an agency, our mission is to assist our clients in bringing that kind of swagger to the table, the kind that turns heads and sets them apart.

Andrea Pannier, Senior Digital Producer

I feel that what’s happening in Boulder with Coach Prime is the ultimate comeback story – a bit of a Hail Mary, if you will. This situation is such a perfect storm: a depleted fan base desperately grasping for hope, a nation that loves a comeback story, and a talented coach with the charisma to captivate an audience – whether they are looking for him to fail or succeed. Sometimes, you need a disrupter to make an impact.

Furthermore, he’s also the ultimate influencer! Almost $5 million in preorders for $67 sunglasses!? You better believe this CU Alumni preordered :).

Justin Gatz, Digital Marketing Specialist

Deion Sanders, Neon Deion, Coach Prime—whatever name or iteration you’ve grown up with—is a masterclass in brand marketing. He demonstrates that while good brands are long-lasting legacies, how they are communicated can evolve over time while still retaining their core essence. The college students currently attending CU Boulder were just born when Coach Prime was retiring from the NFL for the second time. I was born in 1989, the same year Deion finished his nationally renowned college football career, got drafted to the Atlanta Falcons, and joined the New York Yankees. Seeing the name Deion Sanders reemerge into the zeitgeist once again in 2023, as it has, is a testament to what he has built.

He has been known as a loudmouth and a showboat, but what makes those traits worth celebrating rather than condemning is that he has always backed them up with the greatness that few, if any, athletes have ever shown. However, for many, his brand is shifting from Deion Sanders, the star athlete, to Coach Prime, the star mentor. You can still see the principles that made Deion who he is represented in Coach Prime, but now, the pursuit of greatness is not through him but in his leadership to promote greatness in others. He is proving to be a great father to his kids, an excellent mentor and coach for his underdog team, and a skilled marketer of his new brand (already trademarking terms associated with his new public persona).

Deion Sanders has always had a brand built on redefining greatness in his own way and on his own terms. But with such a long professional career behind him and a possible coaching career ahead of him, the Deion you know may be far different from the Deion your kids know now. Despite that, he represents the same ideals to everyone, and if that isn’t the goal of a strong brand that aims to withstand the test of time, I don’t know what is.

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