Highest Grossing Football and Basketball Programs

Last Updated on June 13, 2014

ESPN The Magazine has a great infographic about Louisville being the most profitable basketball program in the country.

What’s most impressive, however, is how much revenue Louisville basketball generates compared to most major college football programs. For fiscal year 2012, the Cardinals basketball program ranked 22nd amongst FBS-level football and basketball programs:

7Louisiana StateFootball$69,427,009
8Notre DameFootball$68,986,659
10Ohio StateFootball$63,866,161
14Florida StateFootball$54,294,429
18Michigan StateFootball$50,159,347
19South CarolinaFootball$49,598,334
21Texas A&MFootball$44,420,762
24Virginia TechFootball$38,382,042
25Oklahoma StateFootball$37,744,529

To sum it up, Louisville basketball rakes in more dough than all but five Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 football programs. And that’s with the Big East’s television contract. As I wrote last year, Louisville’s move to the ACC has the potential to make it one of the top-10 most profitable athletic departments in the country.

If you’re interested, Louisville football comes in at #54 on the combined football/basketball revenue ranking.

Here’s a look at the top-10 highest-grossing basketball programs (with their rank among football programs in the second column):

Basketball Program RankBasketball’s Rank Among Football and Basketball ProgramsSchoolRevenue
451North Carolina$24,881,106
766Michigan State$19,807,794
1071Ohio State$18,121,349

And no, before you ask, it’s not because Louisville sells alcohol at its basketball  games. Louisville reported just over $1 million from concessions, programs and parking revenue.

KFC Yum! Center has allowed Louisville to keep up with the top football programs by allowing it to profit off 71 luxury suites and numerous other premium seating areas. The suites lease for a whopping $85,000 – $92,000 annually, depending on size, location and the length of the lease. Just 12 percent of that lease fee goes to KFC Yum! Center, with the athletic department banking the rest.

With the exception of seven student sections and four sections with no donation requirement, the other seats in the arena command a donation anywhere from $250 – $2,500 to the Cardinal Athletic Fund.

Compare that to Syracuse. The Carrier Dome has 40 suites, which carry a donation requirement of $50,000 – $83,900. In other words, they top out at an amount lower than Louisville’s cheapest suite. Donations tied to other seats top out at $725, compared to Louisville’s $2,500. Although Syracuse averaged almost 1,000 more fans per game than Louisville last season (and is already tracking 10% higher for season tickets sales this season compared to last), that amounted to just 64.08 percent of capacity at the Carrier Dome. Meanwhile, the Cardinals averaged 97.65 percent capacity. So, while Syracuse is able to capitalize on suite revenue, unlike many college basketball programs who lack suites, the sheer size of the Carrier Dome (approximately 13,000 seats more than KFC Yum! Center) impacts demand and, along with it, donation levels.

Other top programs Duke, UNC and Kentucky lack suites, and the revenue they bring, altogether. They all seem to be in some stage of adding suites, however. Plans for the renovation of Rupp Arena released this summer call for the addition of suites. In October 2012, Duke posted information about its latest fundraising campaign, which includes plans for “bunker suites.” Those suites would reportedly be built under and behind the seating bowl. A spokesman for Duke tells me no final decisions have been made. Nearby in Chapel Hill, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham has also mentioned the possibility of adding suites to the Dean Smith Center, but again the athletic department says that currently there are no final plans.

Simply put, all of these schools are losing out on millions, if not tens of millions, in revenue by not having suites. While it takes success on the court to capitalize on those suites, you simply can’t maximize the value of your program without them. Which, by the way, means no one is catching up with Louisville anytime soon.


Note: Financial data in the charts above is derived from disclosures filed with the NCAA for public universities and from reports filed with the Department of Education for private universities.

Kristi A. Dosh is an attorney and founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com. Her latest book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires, is available now. Visit SaturdayMillionaires.com for retailers and a sneak peak at the first chapter! Follow her on Twitter: @SportsBizMiss.

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  • Stone
    November 15, 2013


    Why label this as “Profit” when you have disclosed no such figures? In your past articles you written that only a handful of college sports programs were “profitable.” Now it appears you are really talking about revenue…yet you label it profits?

  • Stone
    November 15, 2013

    I’ll answer my own question…it is for the need of sensationalism. Hopefully the initial title helped more people read the article.

    • Kristi Dosh
      June 13, 2014

      Or it could be that I don’t have an editor and sometimes make mistakes. It should have said “revenue,” not “profit,” which is why I edited it as soon as I discovered my mistake. I effort to put out a quality and accurate product, but I’m human and make mistakes. I always try to admit them though.