Thanks to the arrival of coach Deion Sanders, the Colorado Buffaloes spring game had more hype than ever before — from a sold-out crowd and national media attention to record donor events and fully-booked hotels.
The scene in person was a Buffs extravaganza — one that even a snowstorm couldn’t stop. Though television viewership was slightly more lukewarm compared with regular football games, it blew most spring contests out of the water.
The Buffs drew 551,000 viewers on ESPN on Saturday afternoon, the network announced on Tuesday. It’s the second most-viewed spring game since 2016 for the Worldwide Leader in Sports, when Alabama was featured.
The number is significantly higher than the 2021 spring game that aired on the network, showing Lincoln Riley’s debut at USC.
The bump was due to the pageantry Sanders brought, as well as ESPN’s elevation of the game due to the Coach Prime intrigue. It was only spring exhibition on ESPN’s primary network, which included top analyst Chris Fowler, a Buffs alum, and mic’d up Sanders for the broadcast.
The spring game could suggest that viewership will increase given Sanders’ arrival — it topped the average football game viewership in 2022 from three Pac-12 programs, including the Buffs themselves.
But the program’s boosted viewership may not be enough to make a sizable dent in the Pac-12’s media rights negotiations, which are currently ongoing.
Commissioner George Kliavkoff previously said he believed Sanders’ arrival to the conference could be a selling point, but media rights experts who spoke with CBS Sports disagreed.
The Pac-12 is in a difficult position as it drags out negotiations. It will lose its two biggest draws in USC and UCLA in 2024, and hasn’t been able to find any takers in the expansion department that could help boost its value.
Meanwhile, major networks have pulled out of bidding, and even streamers — which may be willing to pay a higher premium than linear networks — are less enthusiastic than they were several months ago.