The University of Oklahoma announced that in-person events on all three of its campuses are suspended until July 31, and that includes camps and athletic competitions. It comes at a crucial time for a nationally-recognized college football program, and if this is the last delay it’s likely the season could still start on-time.
But if there were any further setbacks to that timeline, we could be looking at everything from a delayed start of the season, to playing games in empty stadia, and even possibly to the cancellation of all games for 2020. And it’s something for which athletic directors across America are beginning to game plan.
Football season is six months away and for most FBS schools it is by far the biggest revenue driver. Any disruption to the football season could be devastating to college sports because that revenue funds just about every other athletic program.
“We often hear from ADs and MMR (multi-media rights) sellers that around 85% of revenue comes from football,” said Matt Balvanz, senior vice president for analytics for Navigate, a sports marketing consulting firm.
He said the average Power Five school makes around $120 million in revenue per year, “which means roughly $100 million per year from football.”
“The thought that no football or losing an entire season is, that’s a complete game changer. There are so many layers.” Pollard said.
For the average Power Five team, a home game is worth $14 million, including its value from a television rights deals, which is over 10% of average total revenue, Balvanz said.
“Larger departments can likely absorb a 10% loss, but if that increases to 20% and 30% with more games lost then that could be a major issue,” he said.
Playing games without fan in the stands? Balvanz said the average Power Five school gets some $30 million in ticket sales. If 85% of that is from football, that’s a loss of $25 million.
The logistics of bringing back football on-time are getting more difficult. Players that would normally be on-campus for classes and summer conditioning programs are now sitting at home and likely not getting the nutrition or training they usually do. There are no summer orientations for new students. Pulling together an entire college football team doesn’t just happen the first week in August; it’s a process, and one that will be significantly delayed by this decision. And these are issues for the Oklahoma Sooners: imagine how much more challenging they might be for a MAC or Sun Belt school that still competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
And as described by the NYT above, not playing the games at all in some ways makes things even less sustainable. The television contracts of college football play a huge portion of the athletics budget for P5 universities. The tickets sales, and donor revenue attached to them, being jeopardized would also be massive issues for athletic departments that are high-eight or low-nine figure businesses. Despite the non-profit status, no operation can survive without cash flow coming in the door.
We may very well see college football this season, but it might not be the traditional Labor Day weekend opening.