Colorado Invests $500K into Deion Sanders and Coach Prime Series | Westword

Colorado Helps Foot the Bill for Coach Prime Season 2 with $500K Film Incentive

The Amazon Prime show about CU football coach Deion Sanders just got half a million dollars in extra cash from the State of Colorado as a film incentive.
CU football coach Deion Sanders.
CU football coach Deion Sanders. Evan Semón
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The second season of Deion Sanders’s documentary-style show about his ongoing coaching career, Coach Prime, is being filmed in Colorado, with the Centennial State doling out a monetary incentive for the Amazon Prime production — to the tune of $500,000 — to help foot the bill.

The Colorado Office of Film, Television, and Media, which is part of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, announced in early October that it had approved the anticipated rebate in March.

“We don't have a lot of money, so we try to spend it on projects that we think are going to be highly beneficial to the state,” says state film commissioner Donald Zuckerman. “Here you have a really good company, Amazon, that people subscribe to. … Then this guy is coming here to do this, and he has this incredible track record.”

Zuckerman cites the hype around Sanders, who has brought celebrity eyes and nationwide interest to the CU program ever since he became its head football coach last December. The film commissioner expects plenty of people will tune in to the second season of Coach Prime, drawing attention to the state and the city of Boulder.

Colorado’s film incentives are based on percentages of a production’s in-state expenditures. In this case, SMAC Entertainment — founded by retired NFL player Michael Strahan and Constance Schwartz-Morini — expects to spend around $4.9 million in Colorado as it produces the show for Amazon Prime. It’s getting an approximately 10 percent rebate, which is lower than the maximum rebate of 20 percent.

But should Amazon, a billionaire-owned company with gobs of revenue, really be getting handouts from the state?

Arielle Brachfeld, deputy film commissioner, says the incentive was designed to ensure that the entertainment giant will hire locals instead of importing labor.

“If a production were not to participate in our incentive program, they could bring in anybody from out of town and those jobs don't go to our local community,” she says. “But by having them participate in our incentive program, we are ensuring the Colorado hires are taking place in a meaningful capacity. We're ensuring that state and local taxes are being collected. We're ensuring that we are seeing Colorado vendors be used.”

Productions that participate in the incentive program must source at least 50 percent of their labor from Colorado to qualify. Out-of-state companies like Amazon must also spend at least $1 million locally to qualify; in-state companies only have to spend $100,000.

The Colorado Office of Film, Television, and Media also considers extrapolated benefits, using a formula designed by the Leeds School of Business at CU. Among other factors, the multiplier calculates visitors inspired by projects filmed in the state, along with restaurants and hotels where the out-of-state crew will stay and dine.

CU and the City of Boulder have already reported economic benefits from the Sanders hire in the form of ticket and merchandise sales, and local businesses overflowing with patrons. The COFTM multiplier estimates an impact as high as $9 million for season two of Coach Prime alone.
click to enlarge A man with a white hoodie hugs two children.
MLB legend CC Sabathia is one of the many people paying attention to Boulder this year.
Evan Semón
“How many people are going to decide after watching this that, ‘I've never been to Colorado or I've never been to Boulder, I think it's time to come here,’” Zuckerman says. “You're going to see a lot of traffic follow the show here. … We're hopeful that Amazon will decide to come back for another year, and we've already established the precedent to have a pretty low incentive. We will try to give them a reasonable incentive given the fact that what they're shooting is here.”

As Zuckerman points out, the monetary boost isn’t a typical incentive designed to entice productions to pick Colorado over other filming locations, since the production follows Sanders, who was already coming here.

Usually, those interested in filming in the state reach out to COFTM and share details such as who is involved and what their financing is. Once the office determines that the application is strong, they negotiate an incentive agreement. Then they present it to the state Economic Development Commission, which approves or rejects the proposal.

Zuckerman says it’s rare for proposals that go before the commission to be rejected, because the office doesn't make presentations on projects that haven’t met every requirement. After a project is completed, its budget goes through a two-step audit to be sure it complied with regulations before it actually gets the incentive.

“They have to prove that the money was spent on things that are rebatable,” Zuckerman says. “They could include travel. They could include hotels here, car rentals, truck rentals, equipment rentals, hiring all kinds of people to work.”

If a project spends less than expected in the state, the planned rebate could decrease, but if it spends more, the rebate won’t exceed the original budget’s projection. “Incentives drive the film business,” Zuckerman says.

With that knowledge, Colorado established its incentive program in 2012 and created a Film Incentive Task Force in 2022 to study ways to make it more competitive and effective. That led to a bill passed during the 2023 legislative session changing the rebate format into a refundable income tax credit in 2024.

The ultimate goal is to make the incentive program more consistent.

Incentive funding has fluctuated over time, with as much as $6.75 million allotted in high years and as little as $750,000 in low years. Zuckerman says the state has now allocated nearly the entirety of the approximately $11 million it had between this year and last year as funds roll over.

“Given the inconsistent nature of program funding through the General Fund, the film incentive program should be restructured from its current state as a cash rebate to a tax credit, which will be funded by TABOR refund dollars,” the Film Incentive Task Force concluded in its 2022 report.

Despite the ups and downs, the tax credit has supported movies like Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Furious 7 of the Fast & Furious franchise. It’s also earned Colorado screen time in television with Top Chef and other productions by the Food Network, PBS and HGTV filmed here.

The task force report predicted a 2023 budget of $2.75 million in 2023 incentives, $31 million in expected in-state expenditures, $56 million in multiplied benefits and 583 Colorado hires. The hires are key, Zuckerman says, because they help locals earn their chops in an industry that requires both experience and credits — and is difficult to get into.

“The way you work your way up is you get on productions and you learn, and then you have skills that are now on IMDB where people can look you up,” Zuckerman says.

According to Brachfeld, a production like Coach Prime with a big-name backer in Amazon and a star in Sanders is a real opportunity for the state that's expected to be especially beneficial.

“The impact to CU and that surrounding community is going to be substantially beyond what we can track,” she says. “The fact that they're getting credits and the experience of working on this high-level production — the impact cannot be stated.”
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