Editor's note: Follow along with us for live updates from Week 4 of the college football season. Saturday’s slate features seven matchups between teams ranked in the top 25 of the US LBM Coaches Poll,
SAN DIEGO – The sunglasses company that signed up Deion Sanders earlier this year never has experienced anything like this.
Sales, calls, emails.
All have exploded since Wednesday, when a rival football coach at Colorado State criticized Sanders for not taking off his hat and sunglasses when he talks to adults.
“They don’t realize they just helped me with business,” Sanders told his players at Colorado Friday.
The timing almost seems scripted, but it wasn’t. Sanders, the head coach at Colorado, plays host to Colorado State Saturday night on ESPN. And it just so happens that Sanders was planning to officially launch a new line of sunglasses this week with a company based here near the beach called Blenders.
The collaboration provides a glimpse into how “Coach Prime” does business – tying his personal brand to a product he likes and now sells almost effortlessly by showing up on TV every Saturday to a huge audience. Critical comments about his eyewear habits only have helped fuel the sales surge, leading consumers to turn on the Google machine to find out which brand he wears.
“We have officially broke the internet today,” Blenders founder and CEO Chase Fisher told USA TODAY Sports Friday. “The timing of that couldn’t have been any better. That comment directed at sunglasses and then us releasing the (Sanders) collection today was peanut butter meets jelly. The timing was insane.”
Nobody sports shades quite like Sanders
Colorado State coach Jay Norvell couldn’t seem to resist expressing annoyance this week at Sanders, whose style and success can spark envy. His comments about him came on his weekly coach’s show in Fort Collins, Colorado, as he discussed the upcoming game against Sanders in Boulder.
“When I talk to grown-ups, I take my hat and my glasses off,” Norvell said on his show. “That’s what my mother taught me.”
Norvell didn’t mention Sanders by name, but almost everybody knew whom he meant. Sanders, 56, often wears sunglasses, a hat or both when giving interviews or speaking at news conferences.
The former two-sport star has been famously styling shades for decades, going back to at least April 23, 1989, when he appeared on national TV wearing “Python” frames from French designer Emmanuelle Khanh as the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL draft.
“I didn’t wear anything but EKs at that point in time,” Sanders said in an interview with GQ magazine published in January.
Over the next 34 years, his preferences have changed somewhat, not always limited to one brand until recently.
Earlier this year, he was pictured in GQ magazine wearing sunglasses by Gucci ($650) and Jacques Marie Mage ($750). Before the season, he also sported stylish shades from a company in Australia called TWO SVGE ($52) and even wore them in a commercial with his family for KFC.
But he did something a little different Sept. 2, when Colorado opened the season at TCU with a national television audience on Fox. He came out wearing bright gold sunglasses under his white CU hat with his trademark gold jewelry around his neck.
What kind of sunglasses was Deion Sanders wearing?
Blenders was hoping viewers would ask Google that same question to learn more.
That strategy worked, according to Google Trends. Certain search terms have peaked on Google during and after Colorado's first two games this year, according to Google Trends:
“Deion Sanders sunglasses”
“Coach Prime sunglasses”
“what brand of sunglasses does deion sanders wear”
People wanted to know. Google recently answered with “Blenders,” as paid for and planned.
“Normally, we do a lot of marketing through paid social (media), but with his presence and the amount of news and eyeballs we’re getting, and the amount of media around him, it’s kind of just like working on its own,” Fisher told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s getting so much curiosity. We had to kind of ramp up a lot with Google search just so we were bidding No. 1 (to appear atop the search results). That’s been kind of a primary focus. When people Google `Coach Prime sunglasses,’ Blenders comes up. There’s a lot of interest around those search terms alone. So we wanted to make sure people were able to find us.”
They have, especially this week after Norvell’s comments.
“I’ve never gotten more calls, emails, texts, in the last 24-48 hours and the last two weeks than I have in the last 11 years,” said Fisher, who founded the company in 2012.
Coach Prime's `marketing machine'
The Coach Prime signature Blenders sunglasses aren’t even in stock yet. They’re only available for pre-order ($67) and will be released in October in gold and black, the same colors of Sanders’ Buffaloes. The official announcement of their partnership came Friday and noted that Blenders also will serve as the “preferred eyewear partner of CU Athletics.”
Sanders celebrated by giving out pairs to his players in a team meeting Friday. This was planned before Norvell spiked the Google inquiries, Fisher said. Sanders also gave out Blenders sunglasses to the hosts of the ESPN show “First Take,” when they broadcast from the CU campus in Boulder Friday.
“They (the CSU Rams) don’t realize not only we gonna kick their butts because it’s personal, but it’s gonna be business but it’s also pleasure,” Sanders told his team, as shown on his Instagram account. “When I say business, Blenders. I do a line of shades with Blenders … So they (CSU) don’t realize they just helped me with business.”
Fisher said Blenders had to rush production on 150 of them so that Sanders could give them to his team Friday. It wasn’t easy, considering that they are manufactured overseas and aren't in stock yet in the U.S.
“The timing of this was just perfect with yesterday’s news (about Norvell’s comments),” Fisher said. “This was all his idea. He wanted to surprise the players today. The guy’s just a marketing machine. He’s just really, really good. That’s why this works. He’s unconditionally bought in.”
How Blenders and Sanders teamed up
Fisher said the idea originated with his father, a fan of Sanders, about a year and a half ago, when Sanders was coaching at Jackson State in Mississippi.
Sanders rocked the same style there – sunglasses, cap, jewelry.
“Chase, you’ve got to check this guy out,” Fisher’s father told him.
“I started to kind of see his affinity for style, and not just style but his obsession with sunglasses, loud sunglasses,” Fisher said. “That’s his trademark.”
That’s what Blenders does: It designs “loud,” affordable sunglasses. Fisher, now in his mid-30s, started the company in his 20s as a Southern California surfer out of San Diego State. By late 2019, the company was valued at $90 million when the Italian Safilo Group eyewear company bought a 70% stake.
Fisher remains the CEO, headquartered in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego. Earlier this year, he reached out to Sanders’ representatives at SMAC Entertainment in Los Angeles.
“Deion was in the market for a sunglass deal, and he was very passionate about getting a sunglasses deal for the season,” Fisher said.
Blenders then sent him some samples. The marriage took off from there and since has had a "truly massive" impact with its first preorder sales campaign in company history.
“He loves sunglasses just as much as we do,” Fisher said.
Fisher declined to reveal the specifics of Blenders’ deal with Sanders but said Sanders stands to get royalties from his “Prime” line of eyewear with the company.
On Friday, Fisher also said he was planning to go to Boulder for the game Saturday night. He might even want to express his gratitude to Norvell while he’s there.
“He had no idea about what was about to come,” Fisher said. “The timing of it was great with the game back in Boulder and us dropping the line. You couldn’t have written a better script. It was perfect.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: email@example.com
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deion Sanders takes Blenders sunglasses craze to new level at Colorado