How Profitable was Football in Conference USA in 2009-2010?

[UPDATE: Comments from Tulsa’s AD Bubba Cunningham have been added as of 2:33 p.m, 4/26/11.]

After writing about the football finances of the SECBig Ten, ACCPac-10, Big 12, and Big East, it’s time to turn to the non-AQ conferences.  Since I have a loyal UCF following on Twitter, I promised to hit Conference USA first.

The numbers are drawn from schools’ reports to the U.S. Department of Education on the state of their athletic departments’ finances for July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. See the note at the end for more details on the data.

Before we look at football revenue in Conference USA, let’s take another look at the averages for the six AQ conferences:

Football Revenue:

SEC ($49.9m)

Big Ten ($40.6m)

Big 12 ($35.4m)

Pac-10 ($24.6m)

ACC ($20.9m)

Big East ($18.8)

The average in Conference USA is predictably smaller than the AQ conferences. In fact, it’s half that of the Big East, who came in the lowest of the AQs. Here’s the breakdown by school:
Football Revenue
University of Central Florida$15,173,200.00
Rice University$12,355,180.00
University of Memphis$11,557,329.00
East Carolina University$9,627,578.00
University of Houston$7,719,733.00
Marshall University$7,462,672.00
Univ. of Alabama – B’ham$6,811,742.00
Tulane University$6,686,956.00
University of Tulsa$6,340,835.00
University of Southern Miss.$5,605,441.00
University of Central Florida, who would #25 in the final BCS standings in 2010, brought in revenue exceeding quite a few AQ schools: Maryland ($11,540,368), Wake Forest (10,227,922), Vanderbilt ($14152,061), Baylor ($14,355,322), UCONN ($14,400,371) and Cincinnati ($13,325,304). UCF also saw more revenue from football than Utah ($14,690,174), who is moving into the Pac-10 this year.
One reason for that revenue could be that UCF is the second largest university in the country behind Arizona State. Except, it doesn’t seem to be ticket sales driving UCF to the top of the pack. UCF reported just $5,953,071 in ticket sales for 2009-2010 (for all sports, not just football). Meanwhile, Memphis, who comes in fourth in revenue in the conference, reported $9,087,159 in ticket sales. East Carolina, who had the fifth largest revenues, had ticket sales totaling $6,138,102.
UCF doesn’t have the largest football stadium in C-USA either. In fact, it’s about average, falling behind UAB, ECU, Memphis, Rice, UTEP and Tulane.
So, where is UCF’s football revenue coming from? As you’ll see below, the athletic department receives an amount much higher than the other athletic department profit leaders from student fees. However, it’s unlikely any of that is attributed to football. The more likely story is in alumni contributions and money derived from royalties, licensing and advertising, all of which could have significant portions attributed to football and which would understandably be higher at the nation’s second largest university.
UCF reported using $5.3 million in alumni contributions during the 2009-2010 school year. Comparatively, UAB showed just $3.1 million and East Carolina came in at $4.4 million. An Associate AD at Georgia Tech told me previously that about 70% of the contributions they receive are sport-specific. Assuming that’s the norm for most schools, I think it’s safe to say a large percentage of those restricted contributions are for football and could be a reason why UCF is leading in football revenue.
The other reason could be fees received from licensing, royalties, advertising and sponsorship. UCF reported receiving $3.3 million in this category for the 2009-2010 school year. By comparison, UAB showed $805,000,  East Carolina $1.0 million and Memphis $2.2 million.
Although UCF is leading the pack in terms of revenue, I wonder if its fans will be disappointed to see it is spending below average in the conference on football:
Football Expenses
Rice University$12,355,180.00
University of Memphis$11,557,329.00
University of Tulsa$9,420,693.00
East Carolina University$8,940,958.00
University of Central Florida$8,507,856.00
University of Houston$8,194,333.00
Marshall University$7,462,672.00
Tulane University$6,686,956.00
Univ. of Alabama – B’ham$6,518,199.00
University of Southern Miss.$5,605,441.00
Spending hasn’t necessarily impacted the results on the field, however, as UCF finished in the Top 25 in the final BCS standings for 2010. Once the numbers are available, it’ll be interesting to see if UCF increased spending for the 2010-2011 school year.
It’s tough to look back and forth between the two charts, so maybe you missed the really interesting number here: Tulsa’s spending. It’s much higher than its revenue for football. We saw at most AQ schools that football provided a profit that funded many other sports, but that is not the case in the non-AQ conferences.
Football Profit
University of Central Florida$6,665,344.00
East Carolina University$686,620.00
Univ. of Alabama – B’ham$293,543.00
Marshall University$0.00
University of Memphis$0.00
University of Southern Miss.$0.00
Rice University$0.00
Tulane University$0.00
University of Houston-$474,600.00
University of Tulsa-$3,079,858.00
Back to Tulsa. I spoke with Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham about why his football program appears to be operating at a $3 million deficit. He attributed it to the non-standardized accounting that goes on when schools report to the Department of Education (see my note at the end for more on reporting methods). Cunningham told me that Tulsa reports grants-in-aid from the university as revenue unallocated by sport, whereas other universities may report it as it applies to each sport, which would increase their football revenue. He pointed out this revenue is included in the over $11 million Tulsa reported to the Department of Education as non-allocated revenue.
It’s not just Tulsa not showing a profit, however. In fact, only four schools are turning a profit on football in C-USA (at least by this set of data). By comparison, only five schools in all six AQ conferences failed to show a profit, with just two operating at a deficit.
Knowing that, it’s surprising to see any C-USA teams turning a profit in the athletic department, but keep in mind that these overall profit numbers include student fees and direct institutional support:
Athletic Dept Profit
East Carolina University$1,566,072.00
Univ. of Alabama – B’ham$759,608.00
University of Central Florida$61,915.00
Marshall University$0.00
University of Memphis$0.00
University of Southern Miss.$0.00
University of Houston$0.00
Rice University$0.00
Tulane University$0.00
University of Tulsa$0.00
What do those turning a profit all have in common? Well, they’re the same four schools who turned profit in football. What else do they all have? Multiple millions in student fees. The highest we saw in the AQ conferences was $13,026,289 at University of South Florida. The team who came in tenth was North Carolina State at $4,200,610.
Central Florida would exceed the leader from the AQs, South Florida, at a whopping $17,486,918, no doubt a product of being the second largest university in the country. However, it’s not just UCF relying on student fees to turn a profit in C-USA. Here are the numbers for the other three programs turning a profit in the athletic department: $10,441,783 (ECU), 3,454,483 (UAB), and 4,189,751 (UTEP). All are way above the average for AQs and Central Florida an ECU would make it into the top ten (not considering schools from other non-AQ conferences).
I’m interested to hear what you take from all these numbers. Are you viewing them in a vacuum or are you comparing them to what we saw in the AQs?
You can view my full financial charts for each conference I’ve covered here.

NOTE: The data I have is from the U.S. Department of Education. Federal statute requires schools to report the financials for their athletic department (if they receive the Title IV funding, which all ACC schools do).  The statute prescribes what should be included in each category on the report.  For example, when we take a look at revenue the statute requires that it include gate receipts, broadcast revenues, appearance guarantees and options, concessions, and advertising. In terms of expenses, we’re looking at grants-in-aid, salaries, travel, equipment, and supplies.

It’s also important to note that this data is from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010, so we’re talking about the 2009 football season.  Additionally, while these are the most complete numbers available for all Big East schools (a public records request wouldn’t get you financial information for the private schools), there is room for variance.

An official within an SEC athletic department provided me with the following qualifications to the data: ”For instance, some institutions may report debt service associated with their football stadium as direct football expenses, while others may show debt service as Other, Non-sport specific.  The same goes for game day security, parking, cleanup, etc. which some may show as direct football expenses, while others may show as facilities costs – not directly attributed to football.  I do believe total revenue and expense numbers are comparable, but when you break down the numbers into categories there is a lot of leeway for variances between institutions.”

Another variance that came to light in reviewing the SEC and Big Ten financials is that some schools do not attribute any of their broadcasting revenue to specific sports, but instead only include it in the Other, Non-Sport Specific category.  This means the athletic department profit number is probably the most reliable in terms of direct comparison.

Nonetheless, this is the most complete data available if you want to compare all of the schools (public and private).  Also, while the numbers may not allow for a perfect apples to apples comparison, they do reflect what each school chooses to show the federal government for purposes of proving their compliance with Title IX.  Certainly interesting to view the numbers in that light.

Thank you to my research assistant Ben Perreira for helping compile the data.

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  • Robert
    April 26, 2011

    Wow… Great stuff. I think that some of the numbers at UCF are pushed in one direction by the fact that they are paying off the bonds and loans for the new football stadium, new basketball arena, and the new indoor practice facility (only one in the Southeast).

    The fact that we turn a good profit and only spend in the middle of the road in football, would bother me if we (1) didn’t have so much football success over the past 6 years and (2) if the program was lacking in any way, from a facilities standpoint, or if the student-athletes were left in need in terms of getting them ready for gameday or graduation. But we do a great job in getting the students ready for both.

  • Rodney
    May 3, 2011

    What I take away from this is that ECU is freaking awesome!