Sunday, September 27, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #48


The University of Nevada has added a $5 surcharge to all of their season ticket packages and $1 surcharge to all individual game tickets in football and men's basketball to support the the band, which was going to be eliminated due to the budget. The surcharge is expected to bring in $50,000 in revenue.

Iowa has been able to complete a number of projects including construction of a new boathouse and installation of field turf in the football stadium in spite of the athletic program's budget challenges.  They also hope to begin a $47 million renovation to Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the near future. 

Coaches at California State Universities are trying to figure out how to take 24 mandatory furlough days in the coming year so that the competitiveness of their programs is not effected. 

Maryland has released a five year plan for its athletic program that suggests they would consider cutting sports if they faced severe economic circumstances.

Fresno State's previously gloomy budget situation has become somewhat brighter due to increased revenue from a deal with Learfield Sports and $228,000 more in revenue from the WAC and the NCAA.  

There is a series of proposals being debated in NCAA Division II that would make 10% reductions to the number of contests played, ban practice and competition between Christmas and New Years Day, and move preseason practice a week later than the current starting date for many sports. 

Washington State is considering moving another game to Qwest Field (this time against Oregon) in order to help generate additional revenue

Odds and Ends

Following up on the post "Should we be more concerned about the golden throne or the ivory tower?", the Seattle Times posted an article about the rising costs of higher education generally, with a telling  quote on why higher education costs so much.  "Our sole goal is to find cookies and stuff our mouths," says Ehrenberg, who directs the Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University. "Colleges and universities like to grab as many resources as they can. We want to make ourselves as good as we can. We want the best facilities, students, resident halls and labs, so there's this tremendous drive to be better, and that costs money."


The Doonesbury of sports, Tank McNamara has been running a series of jokes related to the secret football coaches poll that has been criticized by UltimateSportsInsider.com.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bono from the cheap seats


Wednesday night ended four months of waiting when UltimateSportsInsider.com joined three college friends to experience one of the great spectacles in stadium concerts - U2 live and their 360 degree tour. As an almost three-decade U2 fan, seeing them in concert is a spectacle like few others.  The band's ability to put 80,000 people in Giants Stadium with over-the-top music, lights and energy that blends politics, history, nostalgia, the present and the future is visionary.

The show also provided me a rare chance to experience the event as a fully invested fan that had no ability to get special seats, a luxury box, free food, good parking, or any of the other benefits that you receive from working in college athletics or as a major donor.

Attending the concert as a regular Joe (or better yet a regular Mike, along with Joe, Larry and Pete) provided a great reminder of how logistics are crucial to the fan experience.  So many aspects of the concert were incredibly memorable, but a number of operational aspects also stood out and not in a positive way:

Transportation - We took the train to the show but arrived too late to see the opening act, MUSE, because there were not enough trains running to take the throngs of people - who had been encouraged over and over via emails from Ticketmaster to use mass transit - one station stop from the main line to the stadium.

Food - Limited selection.  Average quality.  Hefty prices. 

The time and date - As I mentioned above, the show was a spectacle.  But the crowd was slightly subdued relative to what you would have expected.  I believe this was due largely to the date and time of the show - Wednesday night at 9 pm.  The show was originally scheduled to be Friday night at 8 pm, but was changed when the N.Y. Jets changed their game time from 4 pm to 1 pm Sunday - which then necessitated shifting the concert two days earlier in order to have sufficient time to dismantle the stage.  The announcement of the change was less than 2 weeks prior to the show and resulted in significant inconvenience for all who had been planning a huge start to the weekend and were instead faced with a late night in the middle of the work week.
 
As we look to attract and retain fans, expand season ticket bases and sell luxury seating and suites, the three areas mentioned above, and many other seemingly "minor" aspects are part of those efforts.  The ability to move smoothly in and out of parking lots, quality public transportation (if necessary/available) and well conceived traffic plans may not be glamorous, but they are a huge part of the fan experience.  If its not tolerable and the headaches too great, that will impact purchasing decisions.  If food is too expensive, of poor quality, or offers limited choice, that can have impact additional sales in the venue.

Lastly, changing game times and dates is a regular occurrence in college sports and usually happens for television purposes.  It seems that in many cases schools will accept any time or day of the week to get a game on television.  If you've purchased tickets for a specific game and a schedule changes significantly, the fan's experience is altered.  And the next time they're asked to buy tickets, they may think twice - especially if such changes happen regularly.  It's a small test of their loyalty.  Hopefully schedule changes are considered in a broader context and not just reflexively made because television requests it.

I look forward to seeing Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry in concert a few more times.  They never disappoint.  And the aspects of the experience last night that could have been better will be a distant memory because they only happen once every 5 years or so.  But as you try to attract fans week after week in a tight economy, examining seemingly secondary and mundane items are probably more important than ever and might make the difference between increasing a fan base, eroding it, or losing it altogether.


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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Two examples why the football coach poll needs to be public


UltimateSportsInsider.com wrote an in-depth article back in May that was critical of the decision by the American Football Coaches Association's (AFCA) to allow coaches to keep their votes in the national poll secret.  The poll is 1/3rd of the formula that is used to determine the teams that will compete in the BCS championship game.  As I wrote back in May, secrecy increases the possibility of the poll being manipulated by coaches who have a vested interest in the outcome of the rankings. 

Two examples of poll manipulation have come to light recently one related to the coaches poll and another in a parallel setting.  The first example is the preseason voting of South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt. His preseason rankings placed his own team 18th. He also ranked Oklahoma #1 (he and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops worked together in the 1990's), didn't rank Ole Miss anywhere in the top 25 and ranked four other Big East schools in the Top 25. Granted, preseason rankings are harder to accurately gauge since no one has played a game and they are based largely on reputation, but it seems unlikely that all of his rankings were coincidental.

The second example comes from a recent article by InsideHigherEducation.com describing the manipulation of peer ratings that are used by US News and World Report to determine the best colleges and universities in the country.  Inside Higher Ed reveals Clemson University engaged in an institutionally coordinated effort to have administrators rate "all programs other than Clemson below average".  Clemson's stated goal is to become a Top 20 public institution in the US News rankings.

Inside Higher Education believes a secret poll is a bad idea because "the reputational survey is subject to problems, such as haphazard responses and apathetic respondents, that add to the lingering questions about its legitimacy."  

Haphazard and apathetic responses.  Institutional gain from manipulating ratings.  That's not exact how you want the best academic schools in the country determined.

Individuals with the potential for personal gain who are voting with their own self-interest at stake will struggle to be objective in their evaluations.  Secret rankings increase the possibility of manipulation if these judgements can occur without public scrutiny.  If Clemson's academic administrators are willing to engage in a concerted effort to improve their US News ranking, is it all that far-fetched to think that a football coach might do the same, especially in a circumstance where his voting is secret and his team, his recruiting and his paycheck stand to benefit?

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #47

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is considering an array of tax increases including taxes on athletic ticket sales.  The tax increase could mean up to $1.2 million in lost revenue for Michigan State if the athletic program decides to absorb the tax increase within current ticket prices, rather than passing the tax hike through to ticket purchasers.    

Wright State is considering additional options, beyond staff reductions that have already occurred, to close a $1 million budget gap - 10% of their entire budget.  

South Carolina State is considering eliminating teams and implementing roster management to close some significant budget gaps after enrollment at the University was over 500 students short of projections.

Brown University was unable to fill two vacant staff positions in marketing and game management and has cut back on travel in response to their budget shortfalls.

Bemidji State's men's track team will be spared for the coming season after fund raising targets to support the team were attained. 

In the midst of significant budget cuts, the Associated Press has written an interesting story about institutions that are adding sports teams in order to improve their institutional budget.  The primarily Division II and III institutions use the teams to increase student enrollment and receive the benefit of tuition dollars that more than cover the cost of sponsoring the team.

Barnes & Noble @ School Collection

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Social Networking - What's in your policy?

The ubiquity of social networking is creating policy challenges for athletic departments across the country. While the decline of print media is noteworthy, what's more notable is that this void contributes to a dynamic where everyone, from departments, to individual student athletes and coaches, to ultimatesportsinsider.com are their own mini (or major) media operation.  Cameras have never been more prevalent, information never more accessible and the intersection between news and gossip, fact and opinion, never more blurred.  At this point, most athletic departments have had internal discussions about how to regulate their student-athlete's use of Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously trying to map a strategy that incorporates these media to publicize their own departments. 

The best example of these challenges may be playing out at the University of Arkansas.  The Razorbacks are fully involved in promoting their athletic program using an array of social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook, which are easily accessed via their website, http://www.arkansasrazorbacks.com/.  These standard tools coupled with the SEC's television contract and XM satellite radio coverage make them as engaged in these matters as any program you'll find.

Simultaneously, Arkansas is attempting to manage a public relations issue that has grown out of the same social networks.   Guard Courtney Fortson, posted a comment on twitter that appeared to make light of an investigation of three teammates for an alleged rape (prosecutors have now said the individuals will not be charged in the matter).  

Arkansas developed a very thorough and well conceived policy (click to view the policy) detailing their expectations for student use of social networking sites prior to this incident.  While their efforts at prevention weren't fully successful, this does not diminish the policy's excellent guidance about how student athletes should handle their responsibilities and the potential ramifications for choosing to act badly and/or post inappropriate things.  And it now gives Arkansas the chance to address a very closely scrutinized situation with the benefit of having a carefully crafted educational and behavioral policy at its fingertips.  Indeed, we are all possibly just a bad tweet away from a similar problem, prompting the question "What's in your policy?"

Barnes & Noble @ School Collection

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #46

Washington State has withdrawn from competing in the last of three football games with Hawaii by paying a $300,000 buyout to escape the contract.

Gainsville.com has an extensive article highlighting the financial strength of Florida's athletic program. 

Odds and Ends:  

CTsportslaw.com has a very interesting article about a lawsuit that was filed by Marist University against their former men's basketball coach, Matt Brady (who is now the coach at James Madison) for failing to honor the terms of his contract.  CTSportslaw stated, "The contract allegedly contained two key terms.  First, Brady was precluded from discussing employment opportunities and accepting another head coaching position without the written consent of Marist.  Second, if the contract was terminated, Brady agreed to “end any and all contact with all Marist basketball program recruits” and to refrain from offering scholarships to Marist players, or anyone Brady or his staff recruited to play at Marist."  Ultimately four individuals who were deemed Marist recruits by the institution went to JMU. 

The New York Times ran a very interesting interactive graphic that details how individuals spend every moment of their day.  The ability to sort various subgroups of people (by age, gender, family size, education level and other factors) is especially fascinating.  I was personally surprised by a number of things I learned in the graphics and thought it would be worth bringing the link to your attention as you consider the best times to schedule contests for enhancing fan attendance, to better understand some of the competing interests that can impact ticket sales, and of course seeing what is competing for the consumer's wallet and attention.

The Sporting News ran a review of all of the NFL's ticket promotions (AFC and NFC) for the 2009 season. It contains some good information to consider in your ticketing decisions. If you haven't already, I encourage you to sign up for a free daily Sporting News subscription.  It's a great sports daily modeled after a traditional newspaper.  You won't be disappointed. 

As a follow up for those readers who read UltimateSportsInsider.com's earlier posts about the Pursuit of Prestige and The Golden Throne, I thought you might enjoy reading about Liberty University's installation of an 11-acre, $4 million skiing facility and lodge - which was constructed with artificial snow for year-round use.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #45

Labor Day weekend brings rest, relaxation, college football, and athletic budget cuts.  Here's the latest.....

Ohio State had a $148,000 budget deficit in 2008-09, but the deficit included a $1 million donation to the University library.  Cuts across the department included coach and staff per deim reductions from $65 to $45 and the men's basketball team staying home from a planned trip to Italy.  Instead they went to Windsor, Ontario and stayed in cabins.

UNLV may be facing an additional $300,000 - $400,000 in budget cuts on top of the $1.1 million that was already eliminated from this year's budget. The cuts could include personnel reductions or the elimination of teams. 

Fresno State is eliminating hotel stays before home football games and will no longer fly to games at the University of Nevada as a way to reduce expenses. 

Michigan State eliminated radio coverage of road volleyball games as a cost saving measure. 

Texas Tech is facing challenges trying to keep up with the spending of its larger Big XII counterparts


Florida A&M  is engaging in a series of budget reducing measures such as playing games closer to home, recruiting more in state students and working with local golf courses to reduce practice expenses. 

USA Today has an in-depth article about the use of guarantee games by smaller schools to help balance their athletic budgets.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Should we be more concerned about the golden throne or the ivory tower?

The recent installation of a toilet and shower in Stanford Football Coach Jim Harbaugh's office has created the most talked about bathroom in the history of college sports. Harbaugh's request for the facilities in order to "cut down on drag" comes at a time when the rest of the Stanford athletic department is facing millions of dollars in financial losses and 20 staff members lost their jobs.  Likewise, Stanford's institutional endowment has been pummeled with the economic downturn and the institution is also tightening its belt

Every crisis creates an opportunity and the current economic state has provided opportunity for the critics of college sports to take aim at some of the excesses in college athletics.  The overwhelming refrain from the critics and the focus of countless articles is "college sports loses money" with only about 20 athletic programs in the country breaking even or turning a profit.

"Universities across the country are on the horns of a dilemma,” said Dr. William "Brit” Kirwan, co-chairman of the Knight Commission and chancellor of the University of Maryland system. "We’ve built this enterprise with an insatiable appetite but we no longer have the revenue to feed it. We’re going to have to come to grips with that fact and move to a more rational model.” (Click here for the full article). 

The context of Kirwan's comments is athletic departments.  But read the above paragraph again - his comments could just as easily apply to higher education generally.  What Kirwan wittingly or unwittingly reveals is that it is more than just athletics that has an insatiable appetite.   

Tony Weaver's UltimateSportsInsider.com post - Pursuit of Prestige - frames the issue nicely.  Colleges and universities are competing for students, faculty and staff, government dollars, donations and other resources to climb over each other to the top of the rankings in U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and a host of other similar publications. 

And how are they climbing the ladder?  The same way as college athletics -  "with an insatiable appetite that lacks the revenue to feed it."  The institutions that have fared best in the current crisis are those who are largely dependent on tuition and lived within their tuition-based means for years while others were growing along with the educational funding bubble. Today, state institutions have been hammered due to falling tax revenues that were once reasonably strong.  Likewise, institutions with large endowments and consistent double digit growth became quickly accustomed to the comfort of an ever expanding budget.  All of those gains are gone and with tuition costs at some institutions now exceeding $50,000 annually, tuition increases can't close the revenue gap.

Despite the economic downturn, college athletics for many universities is still one of the best vehicles available for:
  • providing a meaningful and differentiating educational experience for the student athlete participants;
  • building a recognizable brand for an institution; 
  • building town and gown relationships, 
  • fund raising (either directly for their own programs or as a vehicle around which to fund raise for other areas); 
  • providing interaction between schools that are regularly covered by the media with clear-cut winners and losers instead of imprecise rankings of hard to assess academic departments;
  • fun and building campus community.  
Even among those institutions whose athletic programs "lose" money, I would argue that the "losses" are really investments that provide many institutions with a very significant point of connection, identification, and branding for their school.  Athletics are often the primary distinguishing characteristic of many colleges and universities within a sea institutional choices.  But athletics also sometimes appear to be a convenient scapegoat for frustrations about intractable challenges facing the academy, including:
  • questions of affordability due to significant tuition costs and mounting student debt; 
  • online education that erodes the standing of traditional bricks and mortar educational providers; 
  • spiraling costs; 
  • increasing mental health issues, alcohol and drug abuse among students; 
  • mission creep and a lack of mission clarity.  
Jim Harbaugh's golden throne is the latest issue du jour that is capturing the attention of athletic critics, but of equal or greater concern should be the structural soundness of the ivory tower as a whole which is facing significant challenges. Athletics didn't create the problems that are facing higher education.  And shrinking an athletic enterprise that is mirroring the insatiable appetite of prestige seeking institutions won't solve the problem either.

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