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Schools lose out at BCS

Reports show schools lose over $130,000 on average at BCS

Managing Editor

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

Fiesta Bowl

Ashley Pospisil/The Daily Campus

Fans cheer on the Huskies at the 2011 Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. UConn reported a $1.8 million loss at the game, mainly because the school had to pay for 14,729 unsold tickets.

UConn’s trip to the 2011 Fiesta Bowl was a milestone for the football program. It marked the first time the school had earned the Big East’s automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series, and meant the school would play Oklahoma, one of the nation’s most prestigious teams, in a nationally televised game on New Years Day.

But the experience came at a great cost. The team had to travel over 2,200 miles to the site of the game in Glendale, Ariz., and once there, the school was contractually obligated to spend eight days at a hotel of the Fiesta Bowl’s choosing and sell 17,500 tickets to the game. The school could not negotiate its hotel rates, and it was unable to sell most of the tickets it was required to sell, forcing the school to eat $2.9 million of unsold tickets.

In the end, UConn lost nearly $1.8 million at the game.

“It was a high number, there’s no question,” said Mike Enright, UConn’s associate director of athletics for communications. “I think it would have been interesting from a BCS standpoint [if] Stanford went to the Fiesta Bowl and we went to the Orange Bowl, would both schools have benefited from them making the switch?”

It’s impossible to know whether UConn would have done better in another situation, but while the amount UConn lost at the Fiesta Bowl was eye-popping, the fact that the school lost money is not unusual.

A review of bowl documents from each school that has appeared in the BCS over the past three years revealed that most schools who participated in the postseason lost money. The Daily Campus obtained records from 26 of the 30 total teams during that timeframe. The teams not accounted for were Stanford and Texas Christian University, both private schools that are not required to disclose financial information. Both Stanford and TCU appeared in the BCS twice over the past three years.

The biggest costs of playing in the BCS were transportation, meals, lodging and unsold ticket expenses, most of which are directly related to the terms of playing in the bowl games. Many schools received some help from their conferences with unsold tickets however, and in many cases this help meant the difference between posting a profit or a loss.

Specifically, the investigation revealed the following information.

  • Schools that participated in the BCS between 2010 and 2012 lost close to $130,000 on average. If you factor in the cost of unsold tickets that conferences bought up, that number jumps to over $400,000.
  • On average, schools spent $2.3 million at BCS bowl games, including $576,009 on transportation, $764,948 on meals and lodging, $420,778 on unsold tickets and $559,971 on other expenses, such as awards, entertainment, promotion and equipment.
  • The last three national champions all lost money. In 2010, Alabama lost $1.86 million at the BCS National Championship game. In 2011, Auburn lost $614,106, and this past year, Alabama lost $1.9 million.
  • More than half of all teams whose data was available (16 of 26) incurred greater expenses than revenue at their game. Five of those teams ended up posting small profits after their conferences helped buy up tickets, and the remaining 11 posted losses.

One school that received help from its conference but lost money anyway was Virginia Tech. Between the 2011 Orange Bowl and the 2012 Sugar Bowl, Virginia Tech lost $954,214 despite the Atlantic Coast Conference absorbing 17,123 unsold tickets worth over $2.1 million.

In both years, Virginia Tech received roughly $1.7 million from the ACC to cover its expenses, but that wasn’t enough in either case. Once transportation, meals, lodging and other miscellaneous costs were factored in, the school’s expenses added up to about $2.2 million in each year, resulting in losses close to $500,000 each time.

Those numbers were actually a major improvement for Virginia Tech too, considering that the school took a historic $2.2 million loss at the 2009 Orange Bowl, according to Virginia Tech bowl documents.

“There’s not financial gain to be made,” Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver told The Virginian-Pilot in a 2010 article about the losses. “The benefit is the exposure of your program. The system is what it is.”

That fact might come as a surprise to many, given that bowl games always advertise massive payouts for their participating teams. According to a Huffington Post report, some of the payouts this year were as high as $22.3 million.

“Participating in a bowl game does not always equate to a financial windfall,” said Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an independent panel of experts that serves as a watchdog over college sports. “That’s been a public misperception because the public sees the hundreds of millions of dollars associated with bowl games and there’s just a basic assumption that ‘Oh if our team participates in a bowl game that’s going to result in a financial windfall,’ and that’s just not the case.”

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