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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.


  • Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more



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