Thursday, May 19, 2011

Schools Are Not Profiting From Bowl Games. So What?

This post from the Wiz of Odds caught like wildfire on the intertubes yesterday, and I'd be remiss if I didn't comment:
When the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) announced matchups for its five games last December, the Fiesta Bowl was handed the biggest clunker of them all — Connecticut vs. Oklahoma. 
But Fiesta officials never had to worry about monetary risk because they were handing off the financial burden to the Huskies and Sooners. 
Each team, as part of the agreement to play in the Glendale, Ariz., game, had to purchase 17,500 tickets with a face value between $105 and $235. 
Combined, Connecticut and Oklahoma sold only 8,338 of their allotted 35,000 tickets. That left the schools and their conferences on the hook for a jaw-dropping $5.14 million in "absorbed" tickets — or tickets that go unsold to the public or have to be purchased by the university for use by staff, families of players, coaches and even the band. 
Last season marked a record 35 bowl games and nearly every game required teams to purchase a minimum number of tickets. Teams, in search of prestige, never hesitate to take on the financial burden.
The Fiesta Bowl sales were going to be awful no matter what because Connecticut; this is an unavoidable truth. That the two largest ticket-gorges came from the two schools playing in Tempe is completely unsurprising. Had this been an opening round matchup at a neutral site of a playoff, no one would have went either. Connecticut.

There are two takeaways from this though, one negative and one neutral. The negative story isn't the "losses" from the Fiesta Bowl (the BCS and bowl payouts will more than compensate those schools), but the losses from the crap bowls that feature Sun Belt vs Conference USA. Those teams absolutely have to attend those crap bowls, because a refusal to attend would annihilate recruiting for years ("why go to Northern Illinois when they won't even go to the bowl game they earned?") That may work for Notre Dame but not Ball State, but when Ball State can't pay the bills anyway, adding an extra six figures in ticket losses is downright disgraceful. 

But this is only a problem at schools that, relatively speaking, no one cares about; that's why it's a problem. The big schools lose money on bowls because they don't try to make money on bowls. For just one example, Wisconsin picked up the tab for over a thousand people to make the multi-day trip to Pasadena, including a few hundred band members and other extremely marginal members of the team. The players stay in nice hotels, take in Disneyland, eat expensive meals, etc. There is plenty of fat to be cut, except that, why cut the fat? The fat is where all the flavor is, and if athletic programs want to reward their teams for good seasons rather than hoarding a little extra money, then why not go ahead? I'd rather have teams willingly go into the red and players have themselves an experience of a lifetime than know that the program maximized its earning potential on behalf of the coaching staff salaries that will inevitably absorb that money.

Of course, it's only the Wisconsins and Ohio States that have that luxury. For Central Florida and UTEP, a bowl trip is just another game with a huge ticket bill tacked on. Those schools aren't merely forgoing profit for the sake of their players. Then again, if the alternative is just eliminating postseason play for those schools, I'm not sure they'd appreciate that either.