For the Love of the Game … and Money

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Just like anything else in this world, college sports is a business, and anyone who tries to tell you differently is trying to carve out their piece of the pie.

According to a recent USA Today article ranking the top revenues in the NCAA, Texas A&M made a total of $192,608,876. Of course, they didn’t get to keep all of that money with expenditures reaching $109,313,651. With some quick math, we see that Texas A&M made a whopping $83,295,225 in the 2014-15 fiscal year. Here in Salt Lake City, Utah Athletics made close to $4 million after expenses and after a little help from subsidies.

College athletics is a huge business. To further prove my point, there were 41 bowl games this college football season, allowing for 82 teams. This year, there weren’t enough eligible teams to fill those 82 slots. Why were there so many games? And because the demand for football is high, there are sponsors willing to foot the bill.

In another USA Today piece from March 2015, it was reported that the NCAA nearly topped one billion (yes billion, with a ‘B’) in revenue in the 2014 fiscal year, resulting in an $80 million surplus. From the NCAA’s own site, they cite that 81 percent of its revenue comes from sponsors alone. It has become the beast of burden for marketers to peddle their products, and it works.

While the Super Bowl is still king in the world of generating advertising revenue, college athletics doesn’t do so bad itself. Just look at the sponsors for bowl season in football. Allstate, Playstation, Chick-fil-A, Goodyear Tires, Royal Purple and 36 other companies have signed on to sponsor games across the country when only six games come close being important. Obviously, the return on investment is good, or else why would they continue to expand? Even conferences within the NCAA have sponsors. The SEC website lists seven corporate sponsors including Dr. Pepper and AT&T. Then, of course, each university has its sponsors as well, and the constant bidding wars for that is on every college campus. Under Armour agreed in 2016 to a 10-year $65 million contract to outfit the Utes.

There is an interesting link between all the construction on campus and the success of athletics. I don’t want to say that the Sugar Bowl win in 2009 is the reason why we have the Student Life Center, the new football facility, the basketball facility, the ski building or why we’re getting a new OSH, but those projects were all done with generous donations and an increase in student fees, and the Pac-12 money is pretty sweet. And it’s very interesting that all of these projects have begun within six years of Utah joining the Power-5 conference.

As a student, I see the benefits of athletic money, and as a fan, I really see it. As I’ve said before, Under Armour is the brand of the future, and by having the Utes wearing that cool logo with all the different uniform combinations it provides, brings in recruits. Facilities bring in recruits. Long gone are the days where you can land a recruit by having a nice campus and having a decently successful program.

Now it’s about what a stadium looks like, how advanced the facilities are, how cool the football helmets and basketball uniforms look. All of that costs money. I see college athletics a lot like event planning. You spend a lot of time and money making sure that the napkins look right, that the ice sculpture is the perfect shape, and that your venue is poppin’ (do kids still say that? I’m 25 and out of the loop). If you do all those things, your return will be far greater than your cost, and you will be able to have a lot of money for your client and yourself.

Is college sports big business? You bet. Will the big business of ‘amateur’ sports drive people away? Not on your life. College sports has only expanded in the last 30 years, and in my mind it’s only growing from here. But as the pie grows, the Utes piece gets bigger, and that I can live with.

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