Deion Sanders, Ohio State Are the Kings of College Football

Sports analyst Mark J. Burns unpacks the stardom and business of ‘Coach Prime,’ along with college sports fans’ favorite football team and conferences
Graphic conveying Deion Sanders, head football coach at the University of Colorado Boulder
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
November 07, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Colorado’s Deion Sanders has a favorability rating of 62% among college sports fans, making him the most popular college football head coach out of a dozen included in a new survey.

  • Ohio State is the most popular college football program in America, according to college sports fans.

  • Media rights holders for the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference — the two conferences with the most support among college sports fans — stand to benefit from recent multiyear deals, given the level of interest in their teams and realignment on the way.

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Deion Sanders recently arrived at the University of Colorado to much fanfare, media buzz and on-field expectations. From sold-out season tickets to celebrities like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on the Buffaloes’ sidelines, the “Coach Prime” effect is already having an outsized impact on a recently dormant football program.

And while Sanders’ squad won’t contend for a College Football Playoff championship this campaign, the former NFL and MLB star with no prior Football Bowl Subdivision coaching experience can already claim that he’s one of college football’s most popular coaches.

Per new Morning Consult research, Sanders scored a favorability rating of 62% among self-identified college sports fans, the largest share of the 12 well-known college football head coaches included in the survey. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Alabama’s Nick Saban rounded out the top three, scoring favorability ratings of 49% and 48%, respectively.

Deion Sanders Ranks Higher Than Harbaugh, Saban in Popularity

Share of college sports fans who said they have a favorable opinion of the following college football head coaches:
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Survey conducted Oct. 18-20, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, including 1,220 self-identified college sports fans, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 percentage points and +/-3 percentage points, respectively.

Specific demographics at scale: Surveying thousands of consumers around the world every day powers our ability to examine and analyze perceptions and habits of more specific demographics at scale, like those featured here.

Why it matters: Leaders need a better understanding of their audiences when making key decisions. Our comprehensive approach to understanding audience profiles complements the “who” of demographics and the “what” of behavioral data with critical insights and analysis on the “why.”

Business is booming for Sanders, who signed a reported five-year, $29.5 million deal to lead the Buffaloes. His natural charisma and boisterous personality have made him an instant media darling, whether it’s on ESPN or his son’s YouTube channel, the latter of which chronicles behind the scenes at Colorado and has hundreds of thousands of more followers than the football program’s own channel. 

Already seen in national TV commercials for Aflac and Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sanders is also making his presence known via Amazon’s streaming service. Last winter, Prime Video released a four-part docuseries on Sanders’ final season at Jackson State, a historically Black college that competes in the Football Championship Subdivision, before his transition to the Power Five. Season 2 of “Coach Prime” will debut on Prime Video next month. 

Interest in the 56-year-old Sanders, who generated over $90 million in earned media value for the university through the first few weeks of this season, should only grow, whether he stays in Boulder long term or moves on to a bigger campus.

Buckeyes on top of college football

While the Buffaloes have garnered tons of attention under Sanders, the team still has a way to go before it becomes a favorite among the college football fandom, where Ohio State reigns at the top.

The Buckeyes are among the top five all-time winningest college football programs, so it’s not a surprise they are college sports fans’ favorite team. 

Morning Consult asked college sports fans to write in their favorite college football program. The Buckeyes came in at No. 1, with 6% of college sports fans saying they support Ohio State, followed by Georgia and Notre Dame (4% each) to complete the top three.

Ohio State Is College Sports Fans’ Favorite Football Program

College sports fans were asked to write in their favorite college football team
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Responses collected Oct. 18-20, 2023, among 1,217 self-identified college sports fans who wrote in their favorite college football team.

Winning is familiar to the Buckeyes, who won the inaugural College Football Playoff title in the 2014 season. Ohio State, which debuted atop the College Football Playoff rankings last week, has finished every season of the new postseason era in the top 10. Meanwhile, Georgia and Alabama have accounted for five of the most recent nine national titles, including back-to-back victories for the Bulldogs.

Though the Buckeyes haven’t won a football national championship in nearly a decade, the program has competed atop the Big Ten for years. Ohio State, one of the country’s largest universities, won four consecutive conference championships from 2017 to 2020. 

The Buckeyes also have the third-most regular-season wins in the College Football Playoff era and count LeBron James as one of their biggest celebrity fans. Over the years, the four-time NBA champ has gifted school-branded Beats by Dre headphones and custom cleats to the football team. And Ohio State’s new apparel collaboration with Lululemon will provide a brand boost for the activewear company.

SEC, Big Ten Garner Most Fan Support Among Power Five Conferences

Share of college sports fans who said they typically root for a football team in the following conferences:
Morning Consult Logo
Survey conducted Oct. 18-20, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, including 1,220 self-identified college sports fans, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 percentage points and +/-3 percentage points, respectively.

When it comes to conference allegiances, 56% of college sports fans said they typically root for schools in the Big Ten or Southeastern Conference each, versus 45% who said the same for each of the remaining Power Five conferences.

For the conferences’ media rights holders — ESPN and ABC secured an exclusive 10-year deal with the SEC in 2020, while a year ago CBS, Fox and NBC all announced a 7-year partnership with the Big Ten — the billions of dollars committed to each entity have been a worthwhile investment. As these conferences’ teams continue to win on the field (and more blue-blood programs join them as part of next season’s realignment), the networks are poised to do the same, given the conferences’ popularity with the sport’s fans.

A headshot photograph of Mark J. Burns
Mark J. Burns
Sports Analyst

Mark J. Burns previously worked at Morning Consult as a sports analyst.

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