Sanders’ debt to Colorado is estimated to be worth $280 million


Colorado is paying Deion Sanders $29.5 million over five years. But what is its value to the university? The estimate is $280 million.

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Colorado athletic director Rick George gave a surprising answer last year when asked how he made enough money to pay for his new football coach, Deion Sanders.

It was Dec. 4, the day Sanders came to Boulder.

“We don’t have the money yet,” George told reporters at the time. “But I know we’ll get it.”

Ten months later, it turned out that the university had found the money. He wasn’t hiding under the sofa cushions. It has come instead from a return on investment with Sanders that has become shocking in scope, unlike anything we have ever seen less than a year after a new college football coach was hired.

Two numbers sum it up. Here’s what Colorado is scheduled to pay Sanders over five years through 2027, according to his contract with the university:

∎ $29.5 million, including $5.5 million this year.

Here is the estimated return on this investment just one month into its first season:

∎ $280 million.

What does this number mean?

The $280 million figure is a conservative estimate compiled by USA TODAY Sports. It includes increases in football ticket sales compared to last year ($20 million), increases in donations ($8 million), increases in other categories ($3 million at least) and the estimated value of the increased media exposure that came with leasing a pro football hall. A celebrity who attracts a lot of cameras ($249 million).

The actual number is likely much higher but cannot be estimated because data for some revenue categories was not available, including donations to the school after June 30 and merchandise sales at campus stores.

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“Given his character, we had incredibly high expectations when Coach Prime arrived, and he continues to exceed them in every aspect, including on the field, in the classroom and by generating the nationwide excitement that has made CU Boulder a sports powerhouse,” she said. The university said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Earned media influence: $249 million difference

Colorado’s massive media exposure under the headline “Coach Prime” is like an ever-repeated national advertisement for CU. It’s called “earned media.” It’s not cash revenue, but it can have tremendous value, potentially generating cash in other ways over time, including sales and donations as the university’s audience expands.

From Dec. 4 through this week, UCLA has generated 68,536 mentions in the media, according to data the university provided from Cision, the university’s media monitoring service. This equivalent advertising amount is estimated at $375 million, according to Cision’s calculations. This includes viewership of television, radio, print and electronic media, but does not include mentions of social media, according to the university. By contrast, during the same period the previous year, CU had 17,674 media mentions for an estimated advertising equation of $126 million.

The difference is about $249 million after just four games of the season.

“Make no mistake, the university has received a 100% return on investment in terms of earned media value,” said Annie Scranton, founder of the New York public relations firm Pace and author of a book on earned media. “The traditional way to measure earned media value is to compare it to associated ad space. It’s not even close. Given how often and how many media outlets talk about debt, I certainly think that in five years, the equivalent of earned media value is $1 billion or more.”

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What does this mean for Deion Sanders?

Sanders’ flamboyant personality, fame and success have put Boulder in the spotlight all month. The Buffaloes have drawn more than 35 million combined viewers for their games so far on Fox, ESPN and ABC. “Coach Prime” also appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on September 17, attracting nearly 12 million viewers.

In September alone, after four games, CU generated 31,227 total media mentions equating to an estimated $128 million in advertising, according to Cision data. It will rise even higher after Colorado’s next game Saturday against No. 6 Southern California.

“I think ESPN is mandated to mention us at least once an hour,” Sanders said on the Colorado Football Coaches Show on Sept. 21. “At least once an hour, (broadcasters) will talk about something with CU, which we love because it takes our reach broader.”

The previous year, Colorado’s first four games drew about three million television viewers combined as the Buffaloes started 0-4 and finished 1-11. After four games last year, CU received “only” 3,268 media mentions for the equivalent of an estimated $22.92 million in advertising.

Ticket sales: $20 million difference

Even if you don’t count earned media, the Coloradoan has earned enough Prime Effect in other areas to essentially pay for his contract over five years. Ticket sales are a big one.

Colorado sold out all its football tickets this year for the first time in history. Season tickets were also sold for the first time since 1996. Season sales are expected to bring in $31.98 million, according to the university.

Last year, the Buffs had one of the worst teams in America, selling just $12.68 million in tickets, not including the spring game in April, which sold for $10 per ticket under Sanders and brought in about $340,000 after sales, according to For university. .

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That’s a difference of about $20 million.

Donations: $8 million difference

In August, the university’s athletic department announced that a record $28 million had been given to its fundraising arm, the Buff Club, in fiscal year 2023, which ended June 30. The previous year, the amount was $20 million. Fiscal year 2023 includes only seven months with Sanders and does not include donations to the university outside of athletics.

University spokesman Steve Hurlbert said it’s safe to assume the increase in Buff Club donations is attributable to a “main effect.”

Other categories: at least $3 million

In fiscal year 2022, Colorado’s revenue from merchandise revenue through its collective licensing company was $1.345 million. A year later, through June 2023, the amount had grown to $1.58 million, including just seven months under Sanders. For the current fiscal year, budgeted revenue is $2 million, but will likely exceed that by about $300,000, according to data provided by the university.

Dollar figures for other revenue categories were not available, although the university provided percentage increases. For example, sales at the team’s online store have increased 2,544% since last September. Sales at the physical team store on campus have increased 564% since last September.

“Without a doubt, the University of Colorado has probably not had a moment like this in a long time, if ever,” said Scranton, the public relations expert.

It will become bigger. There are eight games remaining in the regular season, starting Saturday at home against USC. The game will be broadcast at noon ET on Fox.

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenbauer @schrotenboer. Email: [email protected]

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