Opinion: Deion Sanders' star power is paying off in big way for Jackson State
Correction/clarification: A previous version of this story mischaracterized new revenue generated since Deion Sanders arrived at Jackson State. The school’s athletic department has generated the equivalency of $185 million in advertising and exposure, a university spokeswoman said.
JACKSON, Miss. — Like pretty much any and every coach, Deion Sanders has a whiteboard in his office at Jackson State. Yet the board mounted above the coffee maker and microwave, a few feet from his desk, is hardly typical. There are no X’s and O’s scribbled on the board to diagram plays.
Sanders’ board contains a list of 20 items — either generic products or the names of specific stores. These are marketing targets.
"Go get ‘em," Sanders said, alluding to the directive for a marketing firm, SMAC Entertainment, enlisted to pursue potential deals. "That’s the way my mind thinks."
Few, if any, can sell it quite like Sanders, who has never been shy about pushing the envelope and won’t stop now.
This is what Jackson State knew it was getting in hiring the electric Pro Football Hall of Famer to become “Coach Prime.” And his star power is already paying off in a big way.
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A university spokesman told USA TODAY Sports on Friday that the Tigers athletic department has generated the equivalency of $185 million in advertising and exposure since Sanders was hired in September to revitalize the football program — and more — at the HBCU school. Surely, this is “The Deion Effect” that athletic director Ashley Robinson stated during a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports.
The way Sanders sees it, it is only the beginning.
The whiteboard illustrates how much he recognizes the buzz about him can generate revenue for an underserved program seeking a wide range of upgrades.
The first item on the board: Insoles. Makes sense. The Tigers, like all athletes, need their footwear support.
Sanders’ board also includes items for "credit repair" (Is this a play on "starving students?"), "coffee" (I’m thinking there’s a tie-in to all-nighters before mid-term exams), "pain" medication (football is a collision sport) and as the coach noted, "tractor supply" (which I’m assuming might have been inspired by shoddy practice fields).
Surely, this is an interesting time on the college landscape for this. On Friday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed Mississippi Senate Bill 2313, which allows college athletes to receive compensation for use of their names, images and likeness (NIL). The law goes into effect on July 1, with Mississippi becoming at least the ninth state to pass this type of measure and the third — following Florida and New Mexico — with that soon of an effective date. These actions are occurring against the backdrop of a sweeping reform movement to rebut the NCAA’s traditional and draconian measures that have prevented athletes from being paid while coaches, administrators, schools and other institutions bring in billions of dollars.
During an interview with USA TODAY Sports earlier this month, Sanders didn’t point to the items on the whiteboard as specific for individual player marketing opportunities — it was obvious that most, if not all of the items could potentially have overall team themes, while many could go either way — but he was undeniably fired up about the prospect of his players cashing in.
"If this happens, we’re able to say, 'Let’s go,' " Sanders said. "At 12:01 (on July 1), we want to announce deals. But that’s how (you) go out and prep 'em. The (marketing) team is already on that stuff."
Sanders did not maintain that the school or athletic department would directly line up deals for the players. Surely, he knows NCAA rules.
The NCAA, however, is in the process of considering an extensive rules proposal that addresses NIL, quite necessary with so many measures in various states poised to become laws allowing NIL payments for college athletes in addition to the case being weighed by the U.S. Supreme Court that challenges whether the NCAA’s restrictions on compensation for athletes violates antitrust laws. The NCAA’s rules proposal was originally scheduled to be voted on in January, but the matter has been tabled.
One part of the proposal would allow an institution to provide information and education to student-athletes related to NIL activities, and clears schools to assist in evaluating professional service providers for such. This part, however, prevents an institution from identifying or selecting a professional service provider or arranging for payments.
Imagine how Sanders might have cashed in back in the 1980s, when he created his "Neon Deion" image at Florida State — backed up by his enormous talent. He was way ahead of his time. Which makes him uniquely qualified to relate to the athletes — at Jackson State and across the nation — as this NCAA reform evolves.
But still: Item 5 on Sanders’ whiteboard? Condoms.
"The slogan is good," Sanders said. "It says, 'I’ve got you covered.' "
That’s going to takes some explaining.
"The reason that’s on there is because, what am I coaching right now? A bunch of young men," Sanders said.
"When we came off the break (in March), I asked the team, 'What happened on the break? Somebody tell me some good stories. Well, one of the kids said, 'Coach, I met my son for the first time.' His girlfriend gave birth and they had a boy."
Sanders said the room was overwhelmed with emotion, given the revelation.
"I’m sitting there thinking," he said, " 'This is a child. Raising a child. We’ve got to teach these kids how to practice safe sex.' "
This is what Sanders must also mean when he says his job is about more than coaching. It’s about developing young adults. And about selling the message, too.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarretBell.