Monday, December 4, 2023

It’s Coach Prime’s college football world – and we’re all just living in it

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It is Deion Sanders’ college football world, and we’re all just living in it – captivated by a reality show that is an irresistible watch all hours of the day or night.

The most telling indication of the Prime Effect, on the heels of Colorado’s late-night, double-overtime victory over Colorado State, isn’t the headline-grabbing viewership number: 9.3 million on ESPN, the high water mark for any college football game this season.

For a full appreciation for Sanders’ resonance nationwide, consider who was still watching a 24-point favorite play a penalty-marred game against a Mountain West team at 2:15 a.m. ET. In short, 8.23 million people, Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand reported.

That total is more than 1 million viewers larger than the peak audience for any other college football game over the weekend.

To put a finer point on it, Michael Mulvihill, FOX Corp’s president of insight and analytics, tweeted that the 2:15 a.m. audience beat every non-sports primetime show this week except for “60 Minutes,” which, of course, featured none other than Sanders.

If there is a fan saturation point for Deion Sanders – the undisputed industry master in self-promotion and the unbeaten Buffs – we are nowhere close to it.

“Deion is paying a lot of people’s bills right now,” Bob Thompson, the retired Fox Sports Networks president, tweeted. “Seems as though CU has moved from just a game to a reality show with a game as the backdrop.”

But CU is not the only game appealing to fans. Despite NIL, the transfer portal and a summer dominated by realignment madness, college football is flourishing – and people are watching. 

If you want a barometer on the current interest in college football – including, but not limited to Coach Prime – look no further than viewership numbers this coming weekend.

Enticing games will reflect sport’s popularity

A glorious buffet of at least seven marquee games figures to draw millions of eyeballs from noon ET through the prime-time window this Saturday. Add those returns to the growing body of evidence that interest in the sport is burgeoning despite sky-is-falling predictions by naysayers.

According to Mulvihill, total viewing of college football across all networks is up 13% through Week 3 to at least a seven-year high with a “monster Saturday coming this weekend.” Credit that to a number of factors.

The SEC is uncharacteristically down from its rarefied perch; more parity exists nationwide. Some dormant blue bloods like Penn State, Texas and Florida State harbor legit College Football Playoff aspirations. And West Coast football is all the rage; the Pac-12, in its last year as we know it, features eight ranked teams.

Consider that +13% year-over-year climb in interest despite an overall lackluster assortment of games last weekend, and despite the most anticipated game, Colorado-Colorado State, kicking off at 10:20 p.m. ET. But not even bleary-eyed viewing could chill scorching-hot interest in anything and everything Deion Sanders-related.

The come-from-behind victory over Colorado State was ESPN’s fifth most-watched college football game on record; the fourth-best regular-season game on ESPN/ABC (excluding conference championships) in six years; and the network’s most-streamed regular-season college football game of all time.

Mulvihill added that he’s not sure there has ever been a live sports event that started after 10 p.m. ET and drew a bigger audience. Viewership peaked with 11.1 million people between 11 and 11:15 p.m. ET. 

Coach Prime takes center stage (again) this weekend

Both the Coach Prime reality show and the game itself take center stage Saturday, when 19th-ranked Colorado (3-0) travels to Eugene, Oregon, for a must-see affair against 10th-ranked Oregon on ABC. The viewing numbers, of course, will once again be robust, but Deion Sanders this week has stiff competition in that 3:30 p.m. ET window – and not just on the field.

In that afternoon time slot alone, fans without a second-screen option will choose between Colorado-Oregon, No. 15 Ole Miss at No. 13 Alabama (CBS) and No. 22 UCLA at No. 11 Utah (FOX). 

Carve out the entire Saturday for football. It starts at noon ET on ABC with No. 4 Florida State visiting a Clemson team looking to breathe life back into its season after the loss to Duke.  

After the trio of compelling afternoon games, settle in for the battle of the remaining Pac-2: No. 14 Oregon State at No. 21 Washington State at 7 p.m. on FOX. Then at 7:30, it’s No. 24 Iowa at No. 7 Penn State on CBS and No. 6 Ohio State at No. 9 Notre Dame on NBC.

Four networks. A slew of can’t-miss games. All resulting in more proof that interest in the sport is alive and quite well.

And it’s not just the Prime Effect whipping up excitement nationwide – even though Deion Sanders remains what he has been all season: The best story around.

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