NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – Deion Sanders has been on national television, putting Jackson State in the spotlight every time its insurance ads run.
Hiring Eddie George had a similar effect in the state of Tennessee.
Thanks to their high level coaches, Jackson State and Tennessee State are capitalizing on greater attendance and increased interest from top-recruiters for companies looking to take advantage of all the hype, by making deals with universities and players under the news name, image and likeness rules.
Just as university officials hoped.
“It’s just about re-establishing our football brand that has been so dominant for many decades and restoring it,” Tennessee State athletic director Mikki Allen said of George. “He’s been all I could ask for from a head coach. “
Allen said registration numbers in the state of Tennessee were already on the rise and four- and five-star recruits were keeping a close eye on George and the Tigers. The state of Tennessee hosted 317 recruits over the weekend.
The state of Tennessee has had business interests from companies such as The General, Best Buy, and bottling sponsor Coca-Cola. A six-figure giveaway from the Western Express trucking company kicked off a new weight room project for the indoor complex.
The Tigers have also partnered with OpenDorse to help athletes who have signed deals with restaurants, vendors, barbershops and cellphones deal with name, image and likeness issues. Allen said brands wishing to harness George’s star power are transferring to his players.
“There are a lot of brands that want to be connected, obviously, to our head coach,” Allen said. “But then I think a lot of that star power that he transferred to our student athletes in the sport of football.”
The Southwestern Athletic Conference, home to Jackson State, ranked 17th nationally until October 31 among leagues for NIL agreements tracked by OpenDorse. SWAC will also be looking at both attendance and TV ratings to see how that could translate into new packages and more money.
“Deion Sanders’ coaching brought more notoriety from Jackson’s state perspective,” said SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland. “Obviously the conference benefits, because if they are going to see Jackson State playing another institution, that other institution continues to have that advantage as well. “
Attendance is also on the rise. With Sanders, Jackson State has averaged 41,633 home games this season. That’s a jump of 6,605 per game from 2019, the last full season before the pandemic and a year before Jackson State hired Sanders in September 2020.
Jackson State did not return messages left by The Associated Press seeking interviews for this story.
Sanders’ starting son-and-quarter, Shedeur, secured his own sponsorship deal with Beats by Dre. On the field, Sanders plays Jackson State (10-1) in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game December 4. The State of Tennessee (5-6) has just completed its season.
“It’s a huge achievement,” Sanders said on a recent call from SWAC coaches. “People just thought we were kidding when I said we believe, but we really believe beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
The Professional Football Hall of Fame cornerback was one step ahead of George, going 4-3 earlier this year in the spring season delayed by the pandemic.
George was hired in mid-April to restart a program with 13 black national championships after three consecutive losing seasons, including 2-5 last spring. He guided the Tigers to their longest winning streak since 2016, four straight Ohio Valley Conference wins for the first time since 2013 and their best record since 2017 at 5-6.
The enthusiasm around George did not translate into an increase in attendance for the state of Tennessee. Its largest crowd was in Memphis for the Southern Heritage Classic against Jackson State and Sanders. The Tigers drew 8,627 for a home win over Murray State, but averaged 4,022 for four games at home. This is down from the 8,787 average over seven games in 2019.
“The only way for me to get people to the stands is to put a winning product on the pitch,” said George. “That’s it. I mean, of course, I was disappointed that we didn’t have any fans, but it was due to the lack of success. So I have to do my part.
That’s why the state of Tennessee will be hiring a recruiting manager and upgrading equipment through a deal with Under Armor. George wants offices, meeting rooms, training rooms and a weight room housed in one building to streamline operations and save crucial time.
Sanders and George were successful enough that their names appeared for other jobs. George, who won the Heisman Trophy while playing at Ohio State, was linked with Akron, while Sanders is said to have interviewed Texas Christian as he recovered from complications after foot surgery.
The man known as Coach Prime said he never believed the rumors, especially when he was hospitalized after complications from foot surgery. Sanders said TCU and others are interested in what they’re doing in Jackson State.
“They’re trying to figure out the formula,” Sanders said. “There is no formulaic man. It is loving these children, challenging these children, holding these children accountable. Make sure they keep up to be smart, tough, quick, and disciplined. This is the secret. Not everyone has this recipe.
That’s what George wants to build, hopefully as quickly as Sanders was able to – and he’s let his Tigers know that changes are coming.
“I don’t know if you’ve watched ‘Game of Thrones’, but winter is coming,” said George. “Winter is coming and it’s time to get busy.”
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