This story is a capstone project by CU Boulder’s News Corps student Alexa Sabatte.
Ryan Platt, a third-year student has been a drum major for the Golden Buffalo Marching Band for the last two years. The third-year CU Boulder student remembered a time when he tried to lift the spirits of the crowd during a football season in which the school’s team only notched one victory. As a pivotal member of the band, he struggled to keep focus.
But now, with the arrival of former NFL player Deion Sanders—aptly nicknamed Coach Prime—Platt has seen a rise of exuberance among his bandmates unprecedented in the past.
“The arrival of Deion Sanders has certainly created a new atmosphere of anticipation and buzz that will make this season especially unique and memorable,” Platt said on a spring day as he awaited the first performance.
The “Coach Prime Effect” is now in full motion. As a byproduct of the excitement surrounding the new football coach, the Golden Buffalo Marching Band has witnessed an incredible number of musicians from across the country wanting to play with them.
“I expect that the band will likely be larger than it has been in past years thanks to Sanders being hired. I anticipate that because people are excited about Coach Sanders, and we will also see a large spike in applications to the school more broadly,” said Max Parry, another third-year student and drum major for the Golden Buffaloes.
Matthew Dockendorf, associate director of bands at CU Boulder and director of the Golden Buffaloes, has led the band for four years. His job encompasses supervising the admissions of each athletic and marching band, recruiting, and retaining students, selecting performances, preparing writing drills, and picking the music. Dockendorf and the marching band had inquiries from prospective students from Jackson State University, Sanders’ previous school, who were interested in relocating to CU Boulder and becoming a Golden Buffalo.
“There’s always been a lot of pride in the Golden Buffalo Marching Band, and we’ve always performed at a high level,” Dockendorf said. “I think with us being more under the microscope and more people from Jackson State reaching out to me, the marching band is such a big thing at Jackson State and that’s the excitement that we are seeing here. I’m hopeful that translates into more numbers, but the expectation and visibility has certainly stepped up in years past.”
It is evident that the marching band is seeing an increase in membership, yet it is just as crucial to pay attention to the rising success of other facets connected to the football team like the ticketing sales and merchandise sales department.
Cecil Hairston II is in his fourth year as the associate athletic director for ticket operations, sales, and services at CU Boulder. His main goal is to bring in revenue as well as cultivate a culture that centers on customer service. He said he’s seen a shift since Sanders’ hiring, both at the University and in his personal life.
“I have never experienced anything quite like what we are seeing here, it’s like this hiring has awakened people,” Hairston said. “I have personally heard from friends or family members that I have not talked to in four or some years that have reached out to me saying they want to be associated and that they want to come to games. People just want to be a part of it all. It has been exciting and really busy from the time that we made the announcement that Coach Prime was coming here. People are just wanting to secure their seats to be able to have tickets to the venue next fall.”
The college football team has sold out their 2023 season tickets for the first time in 27 years. Hairston said as far as he could tell, the school had its highest percentage of season ticket renewals—“around 98%”—since the Buffaloes won a National Championship in 1990 under Bill McCartney. He emphasized that the majority of schools are delighted to sustain around 90% of their season ticket holders, so the department is witnessing ticket renewal numbers that title-winning institutions obtain, such as the University of Alabama or the University of Georgia.
“With athletics, we do not want to lose sight of the fact that it’s discretionary income, and people want to feel good about where they’re putting and investing their money for the perceived value,” Hairston said. “With better players and better expectations, we get better results. Now we can sell the fact [by] saying, ‘Hey, we have top 5 recruits, some considered the greatest of all time at their position.’ But I think it mostly gives a sense of hope that you can see something in the stadium that you may never be able to see again.”
And it’s not just ticket sales that are through the roof. The bookstore at CU Boulder can’t keep Coach Prime merchandise on shelves. According to Bleacher Report, sales of officially licensed products are up 700% since Sanders was hired on December 3, 2022.
With the other facets of the football program garnering more attention and success, the marching band is ready to enthrall and invigorate the atmosphere as the 2023 fall season approaches.
Earlier this year, Dockendorf and a few other members of the band were asked to meet Coach Prime to consider plans for the new season.
“He’s interested in changing the culture, in changing the atmosphere,” Dockendorf said. “He really understands that that doesn’t just happen with the football team, that also happens with the spirit squad, the marching band, the ticket sales, all of the events, alumni, recruitment. He understands the whole picture.”
Dockendorf said Sanders was extremely involved in the band’s plans for the 2023 fall season, recommending songs he would like them to perform.
“We’ve always been interested in doing that, we’ve always reached out to previous coaches and wanted to create that relationship between the football team and the marching band specifically, and he’s no different. He has opinions and he has some ideas that he would like us to be able to do and we always want to strengthen that relationship,” Dockendorf said.
This upcoming season will be the 115th year of the marching band’s performance at Folsom Field, a feat that surpasses that of the football team. Dockendorf hinted that the band will reach new heights. When CU Boulder hired Sanders as the football team coach, the school was making a statement, Dockendorf said.
“He’s such a dynamic speaker, he draws people into his culture, what he’s thinking, what he’s saying and you can’t help but be drawn into that,” Dockendorf said. “I think it’s super exciting the opportunities that we will have next year as the football team and the whole university gets more eyes.”
Dockendorf said the first home game on September 9 between the Buffaloes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers will be especially electric.
“People want to be a part of that atmosphere and that’s one of our biggest responsibilities, is to set the atmosphere of the stadium. Our mission is to set the tone and bring excitement when the other team has the ball and try to bring noise to create an atmosphere that makes it difficult for them to play in.”
As far as new songs to be performed in the 2023 fall season, Sanders was adamant about surprising fans.
“We decided to wait until fall to debut the new theme music, so everybody is just going to have to wait,” Dockendorf said.