Coach Prime, all the time: Why is Deion Sanders on TV so much?

Editor’s note: Follow all the action from Week 2 in college football with USA TODAY Sports’ live coverage.

A peculiar television pattern has emerged with Deion Sanders.

He’s not just a “must-watch” television personality, as evidenced by the 7.3 million viewers who watched his debut victory last week as the new football coach at Colorado.

He’s also a “can’t-miss” TV character unlike any other in college football − meaning it’s hard to avoid the guy even during commercial breaks.

Consider this sequence during his game on Fox last Saturday at TCU, the most-watched telecast on any network that day.

∎ After the game started at 12:06 p.m. ET Saturday, Sanders appeared on three pre-recorded commercials for insurance company Aflac, starting at 12:27 p.m. ET.

∎ At 12:35 p.m. ET, another pre-recorded commercial with Sanders showed him promoting California almonds.

∎ Then at 1:05 p.m., Fox showed a KFC commercial with “Coach Prime” and his family admiring a $20 Fill Up Box of chicken, fries and biscuits.

All of this came during his live television debut for Colorado – a game that averaged 7.3 million but peaked at 10,852,000 viewers at the end of the game from 3:30-3:45pm ET, the highest peak audience of any college football game last weekend on any network, according to Fox.

It's all strategic − and a "can't-miss" of sorts for advertisers as well.

“Investing in Coach Prime is the greatest marketing investment I’ve ever made in 20 years,” Aflac chief marketing officer Garth Knutson told USA TODAY Sports.

Now, more is coming. And it will only escalate if Sanders and Colorado continue to win like they did in Texas last week, revving up a "Prime Time" television ecosystem that has been building around the Pro Football Hall of Famer since his hiring at Colorado in December.

Why is that?

TV companies lined up to show his games for their intrigue and entertainment value with Sanders as a new head coach at the highest level of college football.

Then advertisers lined up to buy ads during these games, betting it will get them a big audience for their brands at a cost of around $130,000 for 30 seconds if they bought the air time recently for his next game Saturday against Nebraska.

Before and after kickoff, the broadcasters themselves then focus on Sanders throughout the game, knowing he's the big reason viewers are tuning in.

Colorado coach Deion Sanders and the Buffaloes face Nebraska on Saturday in Boulder.
Colorado coach Deion Sanders and the Buffaloes face Nebraska on Saturday in Boulder.

From a marketing standpoint, it also helps that there is an intriguing drama to follow involving his sudden and unorthodox resurrection of the Buffaloes.  Colorado finished 1-11 last year before Sanders flipped the roster to an unprecedented degree and brought in 68 scholarship newcomers out of a roster limit of 85.

“Coach Prime is the story, just him and the energy that he brings is probably the main storyline,” Fox Sports vice president Derek Crocker told USA TODAY Sports before the season. “What he’s doing with the roster – it probably doesn’t hurt, right? It’s been keeping him in the news, because something he’s doing, no one has ever done before.”

He's essentially why Fox picked Colorado games for its first two coveted Big Noon Saturday slots in September, including Colorado's home opener Saturday.

MORE: Behind the scenes with Deion Sanders, Colorado's uber-confident football czar

Vested interest in Sanders' success

Winning helps, too, raising the viewership tide for all boats in the Prime sea. Just last month, the Almond Board of California announced a partnership with Sanders. Then the board strategically purchased time to air a commercial with him during the TCU game, an ad that shows Sanders consuming almonds for exercise recovery. "You want to stay prime, right?" he asks in the ad.

The Buffs later won the game, 45-42.

“A lot of people in the almond industry are now rooting for the Buffs, no surprise,” said Rick Kushman of the Almond Board of California, which supports almond growers.

All parties are banking on one thing – more eyeballs for their brands and shows. The better he does, the better they do. Besides the TV commercials with Sanders, Aflac also is a “Proud Partner of CU Athletics,” as well as sponsor of the Colorado Football Coaches Show featuring Sanders.

“Once we win, more people get exposure,” Sanders said Thursday on that show, as he sat in front of Aflac logos.

And it’s only just starting.

'Must-watch TV'

It surges again Saturday when Sanders and the Buffaloes host Nebraska in another Big Noon (ET) game on Fox. Aflac alone plans to air one pregame commercial with Sanders and Alabama coach Nick Saban, plus three more commercials during the game after not advertising on Fox college football games at all last year.

Aflac this year decided to advertise there for one simple reason, Knutson said: The company knew Fox was airing Sanders’ first two games.

“We’re going to continue to follow him around,” Knutson said. “This Fox investment paid off.”

Television advertising measurement company tracked the Sanders commercial times above and noted they don’t even include the Fox promos that aired for this Saturday’s game in Colorado.

Or the University of Colorado’s in-game advertisement, which promoted the school and "Coach Prime.”

Or all of the camera time and talk of Sanders on Fox during the game, including how he is "must-watch TV,” as described by Fox sideline reporter Jenny Taft.

'We need to get on these'

After Saturday’s game vs. Nebraska, the Buffs play Colorado State on Sept. 16 at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN. TV selections and times have yet to be determined for games after that.

“As soon as the schedules come out − sometimes it’s a week in advance, sometimes it’s a couple weeks in advance − I’m calling our media agency and saying, 'Hey, we need to get on these (Colorado) games,' ” Knutson said. “And they always say, 'We’re already on it.’ ”

Knutson declined to say what Aflac pays Sanders but generally said the company pays a TV company like Fox a certain amount of money to reach a certain number of viewers – say $100 for 100 people as a hypothetical example. If the game only delivered 90 viewers, then Fox generally would owe Aflac more time to “make good” on the deal. If the game delivered 110 viewers, that’s gravy for Aflac. It wouldn’t owe Fox $10 in that case, Knutson said.

Sanders, 56, started with Aflac in 2021, when he was coaching Jackson State. He now is in his third contract with the company.

“My assumption is that this particular media investment will significantly overdeliver,” Knutson said.

OPINION: You remember Deion Sanders as an athletic freak. Now, he just wants to coach standing up.

Why him?

It starts with his recognizability and high-wattage personality, which has been on display since he became a two-sport star in pro baseball and football more than 30 years ago. He’s been on TV for much of his adult life and now has moved into a new stage as a coach and father of five, including two sons who play for him at Colorado.

Last week when he won his first game at TCU, Sanders became the “most in-demand sports figure with American audiences,” according to Talent Demand data from Parrot Analytics, a company that measures engagement and consumption from consumers. Among non-sports figures, this placed him ahead of singer Madonna and behind rapper Eminem, according to the company.

“Anything that Coach Prime does, he will win at, whether that’s being a family man, a businessman, a coach or certainly as a player," Knutson said. “That’s what everybody knows him for.”

That and being on TV frequently. For the second Saturday in a row, he’ll be hard to avoid.

“I think it’s just his personality,” Crocker of Fox said. “He’s magnetic.”

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email:

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deion Sanders is all over TV; he's been a can't-miss for advertisers