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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Football’s success key to profits

    The football and men’s basketball programs drive the financial ship that is the Arizona athletics department, even when they encounter choppy waters associated with first-round NCAA Tournament losses and nine straight bowl-less seasons.

    But with a revenue-power hoops program reeling from paying two head coaches last season and first-round NCAA Tournament losses the past two years, does the football program need to reach a bowl and thus improve on its bottom line for the sustainability of the entire athletics department?

    To see the accompanying graph data for this article, click HERE

    “”It makes it tougher, no doubt about it,”” UA associate to the athletic director John Perrin said of the situation when football does not win consistently. “”We have to do things a little different. We have to really watch our expenditures and make sure every penny counts.””

    A Daily Wildcat analysis of four years of national athletics department data from 2003-04 to 2006-07 showed that Arizona brought in an average of $15.4 million in basketball revenue during that time and $15.2 million in football revenue.

    Of the 66 schools analyzed with a basketball and football program in one of the six major conferences, only six produced more revenue from their basketball teams than their football teams, including Arizona. The other five schools are Louisville, Duke, Kansas, Maryland and Wake Forest.

    The majority of schools generated significantly more football than basketball revenue, with Arizona ranking No. 3 overall in hoops revenue and No. 48 in football revenue. The school recorded an average annual profit of $11.6 million in hoops, No. 2 nationally, but only $6.3 million in football, No. 41 nationally.

    “”The two of them together, those two are our two engines,”” said UA athletic director Jim Livengood. “”Those, football and men’s basketball, are the engines that keep the other 17 programs healthy financially.””

    Added UA swimming and diving head coach Frank Busch: “”Without that type of revenue supply there’s no way sports like swimming and diving would exist.””

    Statistical analysis shows a strong correlation between football revenue and Directors’ Cup standings, which awards points to schools based on how they finish in postseason play, providing a sense of the best overall athletics departments.

    Yet no correlation exists between men’s basketball revenue and Directors’ Cup standings, presumably because the majority of schools rely on football revenue more heavily than Arizona.

    The Wildcats recorded an average ranking of No. 16 over the past four years in the Directors’ Cup, however, meaning only two schools ranked higher than Arizona while taking in less football revenue. Seven of the 15 schools which rank ahead of Arizona have the backing of top-10 football revenue-producing programs.

    Furthermore, data analysis proved – not surprisingly – that winning increases the revenues a football program produces.

    “”I think as long as there’s hope and promise that things can get better sometimes you can go on for a while,”” Livengood said, likely alluding to his Wildcats. “”But normally with most major programs there’s a huge correlation between winning and finances.””

    Generating football revenue

    The UA athletics department’s marketing team operates under the pressure of needing to sell football for the sake of the entire department.

    UA marketing director James Francis said football makes money from three main revenue streams: ticket sales, donations and rights fees for advertising sponsorships and broadcasting games.

    Ticket sales can be further broken up into the actual ticket price as well as a priority amount that increases as seats get better. The same concept applies for coveted men’s basketball tickets.

    Perrin said Arizona averaged 47,400 people in paid attendance per game last season and averaged roughly 49,000 the previous year in the 57,803-capacity Arizona Stadium.

    Donations encompass the money donors specifically earmark for football scholarships, although some donations are made to the athletics department in general and not to individual sports.

    As the school’s third-party rights holder, IMG Sports secures the broadcast rights and advertising sponsorships that the school uses as a third major source of income.

    “”That’s why we’re here,”” Francis said. “”Those three areas of revenue are our lifeblood. Without it, everybody’s going to feel that, not just football, but all of our sports.””

    Financing the non-revenue sports

    Although Arizona is not Ohio State or Texas, the top two schools in average football revenue for the past four years, Livengood said the Wildcats fully fund every program the school offers, providing the full complement of scholarships allowed by the NCAA and hiring the maximum number of assistant coaches per sport.

    Livengood applauded his staff for spending its money wisely to make this happen, as Arizona has always balanced its budget under Livengood.

    “”We’re very careful about where we spend it and how much money we spend and those kinds of things,”” Livengood said. “”Our staff gets an awful lot of credit.””

    Arizona’s success in the Directors’ Cup standings over the years can be directly traced to the softball and men’s and women’s swimming programs, both of which are led by coaches who have become icons in their sport.

    Softball has won consecutive national championships and has missed the Women’s College World Series only once in the past 20 years. The swimming teams annually compete for championships and finally broke through this season with both squads winning national titles.

    Interim head coach Larry Ray said his program has never been denied the means to go somewhere, such as a recruiting trip. But the softball juggernaut benefits from the sparkling reputation of head coach Mike Candrea and the program, as well as the fact that so many elite softball players hail from Arizona and California, as softball recruits primarily in the West.

    Ray said softball has “”not been affected tremendously”” by the football team’s lack of success in recent years, as seen from the success of the program. It does not employ a director of softball operations or a secretary, however.

    The softball programs at the schools in the top five of football revenue all have some sort of office assistant attached to the program.

    “”I can’t say we haven’t felt it being without a staff member,”” Ray said. “”It has affected us a little bit. The softball trend has been to (have a) director of softball operations. At schools where football is thriving they all have one right now. That’s the only thing I’ve seen of the effect football has had on softball programs in general.””

    Busch, still glowing from the pair of national championships his team won this spring, said he doesn’t know what the difference is between his school and a place like Texas – tops in football revenue – pointing out that his teams beat both of the Longhorn squads head-to-head in dual meets this season as well as in the NCAA Championships.

    “”My feeling is if you have an adequate staff you should be able to divide up your responsibilities to your staff and you should be able to cover everything,”” Busch said. “”We certainly feel like we’re certainly staffed to the point where we can do what we need to do and do the best we can do. I just think of all the major schools of the country and all the various revenues they may produce doesn’t necessarily guarantee a championship.””

    Does football need to win?

    Over the past four years the UA teams have ranked among the best in the country of schools whose football programs have struggled in the wins – and therefore revenue – department.

    As for the question of whether the athletics department needs football to win in order to stay in the black, Perrin does not anticipate that becoming an issue as the Wildcats embark on their 10th season since their last bowl game. Instead, Perrin echoed optimism that has been brewing the past few years, before ending in more disappointment come bowl season.

    “”We really feel like we’re going to have a breakout year in football,”” he said. “”We’re really excited about the team and can’t wait for it to be started. Of course if you continue not to go to bowls and not to win then obviously there’s a concern there for attendance falling off, for example, so we have to always have an eye on that situation as well.””

    Livengood said reaching a bowl game would be more important to show the nation the program has “”arrived”” than to the actual financial windfall accompanying the game. That’s not to mention the “”residuals,”” such as staying in the public’s eye longer for recruits and extra practice days.

    When asked if his athletics department makes an acceptable amount of revenue to fund its full complement of teams, Livengood compared it to the fact any coach would want more money if it’s a possibility.

    “”Would we like it to be more? Absolutely we would like it to be more,”” Livengood said. “”There’s always more things you can do. There’s more whistles and things like that, there’s always more things you can do in the recruiting area, there’s always more things you can do in the facilities area, so our idea is to try to do the best of our abilities (to) fully fund. If we’re going to have a program, we’re going to fully fund it.””

    That’s what the Wildcats have done in the past, and the results from non-revenue sports, such as softball and swimming, show the fruits of that work.

    But if the football team does not start winning and fans stop attending as many games and making as many donations, the department could be in some trouble.

    “”If you’re going to fund 19 sports like we do, football revenue and men’s basketball revenue become absolutely essential,”” Livengood said.

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