Which Sports Turn a Profit?

 

Florida Gymnastics (from Flikr user gtmcknight)

Quite often when sharing the financials of various athletic departments I’ve told you that football and men’s basketball are generally the only sports with the potential to make more money than they spend. Here and there we see a women’s basketball program or another sport turn a profit for the year, but it’s a rarity.

Some of you have asked exactly how much the other sports lose, so I thought I’d share with you what I have. Keep in mind, I’m sharing operating revenue and expenses for each individual sport. There are other forms of revenue and expense in the athletic department, but these are the revenues and expenses necessary to operate each sport.

We’ll start with Michigan State. I’ve got their financials from the 2009-2010 school year.

Here’s the operating profit or loss of each sport at Michigan State:

Men’s Sports

  Revenue  Expenses Profit
Football $14,406,957.00 $9,609,426.00 $4,797,531.00
Basketball $4,053,960.00 $5,230,048.00 -$1,176,088.00
Hockey $1,156,130.00 $1,786,114.00 -$629,984.00
Baseball $0.00 $721,677.00 -$721,677.00
Track/Cross Country $0.00 $611,860.00 -$611,860.00
Wrestling $0.00 $609,573.00 -$609,573.00
Soccer $0.00 $506,016.00 -$506,016.00
Swimming $0.00 $457,172.00 -$457,172.00
Tennis $0.00 $276,024.00 -$276,024.00
Golf $0.00 $225,653.00 -$225,653.00
    TOTAL -$416,516.00

Women’s Sports

  Revenue Expense  Profit
Basketball $163,639.00 $1,938,843.00 -$1,775,204.00
Crew $0.00 $1,145,040.00 -$1,145,040.00
Volleyball $0.00 $928,579.00 -$928,579.00
Track/Cross Country $0.00 $882,337.00 -$882,337.00
Softball $0.00 $867,019.00 -$867,019.00
Field Hockey $0.00 $819,930.00 -$819,930.00
Gymnastics $0.00 $706,399.00 -$706,399.00
Soccer $0.00 $639,370.00 -$639,370.00
Swimming $0.00 $635,605.00 -$635,605.00
Tennis $0.00 $427,447.00 -$427,447.00
Golf $0.00 $249,918.00 -$249,918.00
    TOTAL -$9,076,848.00

Only four sports generate any revenue at Michigan State: football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and hockey. This is not uncommon, as few sports outside of football and basketball charge for admission to games.

For those who are interested, despite the appearance of the above, Michigan State is a self-sustaining athletic department once you add in revenue from broadcasting, post-season payouts, sponsorships, licensing and royalties, etc. However, as you can see, it takes the football profit plus many millions more to run the athletic department, not unlike most universities.

The story isn’t much different at Florida. Here are the operating numbers for each sport at Florida based on financial statements for fiscal year 2010 (2009-2010 school year):

Men’s Sports

  Revenue Expense Profit
Football $63,951,571.00 $19,707,442.00 $44,244,129.00
Basketball $9,464,520.00 $6,866,541.00 $2,597,979.00
Baseball $541,073.00 $1,678,780.00 -$1,137,707.00
Tennis $9,867.00 $507,705.00 -$497,838.00
Golf $14,400.00 $375,499.00 -$361,099.00
    TOTAL $44,845,464.00

Coed Sports

Swimming $3,000.00 $1,403,826.00 -$1,400,826.00
Track $69,854.00 $2,263,392.00 -$2,193,538.00
    TOTAL -$3,594,364.00

Women’s Sports

Golf $4,932.00 $314,413.00 -$309,481.00
Basketball $45,361.00 $2,182,324.00 -$2,136,963.00
Tennis $0.00 $516,992.00 -$516,992.00
Soccer  $0.00 $757,538.00 -$757,538.00
Volleyball $78,418.00 $1,008,438.00 -$930,020.00
Softball $39,655.00 $908,338.00 -$868,683.00
Gymnastics $236,819.00 $1,063,242.00 -$826,423.00
Lacrosse $0.00 $600,624.00 -$600,624.00
    TOTAL -$6,946,724.00

I should note there is a slight difference in the way Michigan State and Florida break out revenue and expenses for each sport. Florida breaks broadcasting revenue and postseason money out by sport, whereas Michigan State does not. However, Florida also includes the expenses for postseason participation by sport. Another difference is that Michigan State includes grants–in-aid by sport and Florida does not.

All this would matter if you were comparing the two schools, but here I’m only using them to give you two examples of how every sport other than football, and in Florida’s case men’s basketball, lose money. (Even if each school presented their financials in exactly the same way no sports other than football and maybe men’s basketball would turn a profit.) This is typical of every school I look at, but these are examples from two schools who are self-sustaining athletic departments (meaning they require no financial support from the University).

If you’ve read this site for long, you’ve heard me say that football profits are important because they fund every other sport. They don’t simply sit in a “football only” vault waiting to enrich the football program. As you can see, Florida is in a better position than Michigan State to cover the operating expenses of all the sports thanks to the huge football profit. In addition to the approximately $10 million it must cover in losses by other sports, however, there is $9.6 million in scholarship expense, $2.9 million in training expenses, $1.2 million in sports information expenses (publications, programs, etc.), $2.1 million in marketing expenses, $4.9 million in administrative expenses and so on to the tune of $96.9 million in total operating expenses in the athletic department.

This is why the debate over pay-for-play is so complicated. Not only are there only one or two profit-producing sports at a school, but there’s the Title IX issue I’ve detailed previously.

Check back tomorrow for something else I found interesting when reviewing which sports lose money.

18 thoughts on “Which Sports Turn a Profit?”

  1. Do you know of any hockey programs that turn a profit? I graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha. They are beginning the transition to Division 1 starting next year, and while heavily relying on state aid and student fees right now, they intend to try and ease off that… Not sure how realistic that is. I do believe the hockey program has been close to profitable (according to the way they interpret it) at times, but the basketball program (which has drawn less than a 1000 fans per game the last few years) will have to make significant improvement to try and help hockey support the athletic department.

    1. I’ve heard there are some that do, but I have yet to find the numbers to support that statement. I haven’t seen financials for every school though, so maybe I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Will definitely post on it if/when I find it.

    2. I know in the pursuing I’ve done through the various disclosure documents, the only non-football/MMB team I have found that didn’t lose money was UConn’s WBB team which according to the Title IX disclosures submitted to the DoE exactly broke even (i.e. revenue=costs).

      There are likely others, but I haven’t found any (though the research I’ve done isn’t exactly exhaustive).

  2. Hi Kristi.

    You’re on to something that actually has been known for quite some time (e.g., my textbook, Sports Economics 3d.

    Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that actually very few of even the FBS football programs make enough to even make much of a dent in the rest of the athletic department budget.

    The money that can go to pay players (if universities ever enter into such a discussion) or to fully fund Title IX equity will almost always NOT be found in football (outside of coaches salaries). It will always be found in… coaches salaries, administrator salaries, and facilities.

  3. “I should note there is a [huge] difference in the way Michigan State and Florida break out revenue and expenses for each sport. Florida breaks broadcasting revenue and postseason money out by sport, whereas Michigan State does not. However, Florida also includes the expenses for postseason participation by sport. Another difference is that Michigan State includes grants–in-aid by sport and Florida does not.”

    Kristi, the revenue numbers you are quoting here are nonsense. Not only is the way in which revenues are assigned to sports so different between schools as to make them useless, but subsides are included in the “revenue” numbers.

    And the thing is, you seem to know this. You state clearly that these numbers cannot be compared between schools. And then one paragraph later you do exactly that!!

    “All this would matter if you were comparing the two schools, but here I’m only using them to give you two examples of how every sport other than football, and in Florida’s case men’s basketball, lose money [...] As you can see, Florida is in a better position than Michigan State to cover the operating expenses of all the sports thanks to the huge football profit.”

    The numbers from the “financials” you are reporting here are worse than the Title IX numbers that are so problematic.

    1. I’m sorry you feel that way. These are from audited financials, so in my opinion they are far superior to the numbers reported to the Department of Education. I have the full 100+ pages and have determined the differences in reporting sufficiently to feel there is a huge difference in the football profits Florida and Michigan State make. In fact, I think Michigan State would tell you that themselves.

      1. Audited financials are great. But its then incumbent on you to standardize the way in which those audited revenues are assigned to sports. Otherwise you end up with crazy numbers, like Michigan State earning “football revenues” of $14M. The payout from the Big Ten alone was over $20M! Florida’s assignment standard seems reasonable, apply that to the Michigan State financial report and you’ll be somewhere.

        Getting audited numbers isn’t any good if you don’t use them in a sensible fashion. And if your goal is to figure out how much profit specific sports are bringing in then you are not using these numbers sensibly.

      2. The Big Ten money isn’t all attributable to football. If the school hasn’t broken it down, who am I to arbitrarily break it out? The point of this piece was to show football pays for all other sports, not to compare who makes more on football. You’re upset because I said Florida football makes more. It does. Even if I attributed all the Big Ten distribution to football, Florida still makes more. Largely a product of much higher booster contributions and higher licensing revenue, both of which are largely attributable to Florida having won two national championships in the last five years.

      3. “The point of this piece was to show football pays for all other sports”

        And that’s why you have to use these numbers sensibly. According to your breakdown Michigan State makes a tiny $5M profit on football, a figure which is not even remotely close to enough to “pay for all other sports”. The thing is, Michigan State football makes much more profit than that, and Michigan State basketball also makes a profit – not a loss as you have indicated. If you use the financial reports you have sensibly, you would actually be able to support the point you are trying to make!

        “If the school hasn’t broken it down, who am I to arbitrarily break it out?”

        You are someone who is trying to understand the profits/losses of different individual sports. As such, you have to apply a consistent (not arbitrary!) method of attributing revenue to sports. In the absence of that, you are going to primarily learn about the the financial reporting idiosyncrasies of various colleges rather than the the profits/losses of the different individual sports.

        “You’re upset because I said Florida football makes more. It does.”

        Florida football does make more money than Michigan State football. What I am taking issue with is the fact that it is not possible to determine that from the numbers as you have presented them!

  4. [I still have it, so I will post it again.]

    Outside the Midwest and Northeast, it is probably difficult to see how hockey could be a revenue producing program. But it rivals basketball at several major schools and is the de-facto sport at many smaller schools. For example, the University of North Dakota, an FCS school, drew 12000 fans to each of its 19 games last season, with ticket prices similar to what major basketball programs charge.

    For hockey programs that turn a profit, look at Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. Revenues at Minnesota and Wisconsin hover around 5-6 million. Michigan and North Dakota are around 3-4 million. Those are some of the bigger programs, but there are a couple more with revenues at similar levels and there are many more schools at the 1-2 million mark. (As an aside, there are even a few women’s hockey programs that exceed 1 million in revenue.)

    I am curious where the broadcast revenue for hockey is accounted for by these programs. There is no Big Ten in hockey (well, not yet), so several of those programs might have separate broadcasting deals for their hockey programs. I suspect broadcast rights are not included in the revenues of those four teams above as those numbers are consistent with just the ticket sales. Minnesota charges $800 for season tickets ($400 for students) and has 10,000 seats; Wisconsin is similar. Minnesota is always sold out (the waiting list for public season tickets is in the decades). Michigan’s arena only holds about 6,000, accounting for their lower revenue. This past year, though, their revenue will be much higher and might exceed their basketball revenue due to the 113,000 fans who attended the Michigan State-Michigan game held at Michigan Stadium. Maddeningly, I cannot find broadcast revenues for any hockey school. Minnesota must have one, because all their home games are carried on the local Fox Sports Network channel.

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