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Mizzou athletics, with COVID losses looming, continue to operate at a deficit

Mizzou athletics, with COVID losses looming, continue to operate at a deficit

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — Nearly one full year into the financial crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, Mizzou athletics director Jim Sterk can see light at the end of the fiscal tunnel. He’s bullish on Eli Drinkwitz’s football program and optimistic more fans will be able to attend football games this fall.

But before the coronavirus fully engulfed Mizzou’s finances, halted seasons and nearly emptied home crowds, the department operated at a budget deficit for a fourth consecutive year despite again generating record revenues.

Mizzou athletics hauled in $110,189,122 in revenue from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 for the 2020 fiscal year, according to MU’s annual submission to the NCAA Membership Financial Reporting System, obtained by the Post-Dispatch via Sunshine Law request.

That’s a revenue increase of 3.4% from the previous year. MU had suffered a revenue drop in 2019. That’s the good news.

Mizzou’s athletics spending increased almost 10% in the 2020 fiscal year, up to a record total of $119,082,669. That produced a deficit of $8,893,547.

The revenue figures are sure to plummet next year as a result of decreased ticket sales and other revenue generators stemming from reduced crowd capacities at Memorial Stadium and Mizzou Arena. Though in the last year, since the pandemic’s onset last March, the athletics department has curbed spending dramatically, to the point Sterk envisions more of a balanced budget for 2021.

“We’re down about 45 positions (in the department),” he said Tuesday. “We’re starting to add some of those back because … having so many sports in the spring we couldn’t function without replacing some of those. We eliminated incentives, we reduced salaries, we have essential spending only.

“We’ve done a lot,” he added, “but I think what’s hopeful is our 2021 renewals (for footballs season tickets) look strong. Eighty-five percent of our donors maintain their donor level from last year to this current year, even without their tickets. That has really helped, obviously.”

“Overall,” he added, “we’re doing better than we thought as far as controlling expenses and really didn’t know how travel would be impacted as much as it is. … We think we have a shot at more of a balanced budget this year. But obviously with a lot of moving parts we don’t know.”

Mizzou is still working on next year's budget, but with revenues dropping off significantly because of decreased ticket sales, MU has also continued to slash spending, especially with staffing and travel. MU suspended all incentive pay for coaches and staff last summer and that remains in effect for the rest of the fiscal year, deputy athletics director and chief financial officer Tim Hickman said. MU has cut total spending by $15-20 million, Hickman said.

But COVID has added new expenses, too. MU budgeted to spend around $5 million on COVID testing for athletes, coaches and staff for the year, Hickman said. At last check, the athletics department had spent $2 million from that budgeted allotment. MU has also had to buy PPE materials, equip its facilities for SEC-mandated protocols, such as plexiglass barriers, and spend money on hotel rooms for athletes who need to isolate after testing positive for the virus.  

In the 2020 fiscal year, which included MU’s 2019 football season, when the Tigers went 6-6 in Barry Odom’s final season, Mizzou revenues for ticket sales in all sports dipped slightly to $16,124,731. MU also took in less revenue for guarantee fees for visiting teams, NCAA distributions and cash donations, though donations still eclipsed $25 million. In the last four years MU athletics has enjoyed four of its best five years in total fundraising, Sterk said.

The decreased NCAA distribution can be attributed to the cancellation of several NCAA championship events last spring, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

The school’s media rights revenue through the Southeastern Conference media package increased by more than $2 million to $40.4 million.

MU was expected to take a major financial hit as part of its football postseason ban imposed by the NCAA, however Mizzou elected to defer that withholding of SEC bowl/playoff revenue for the 2021 fiscal year, Hickman confirmed. For the 2020 fiscal year, Mizzou took in more than $9.1 million in SEC bowl/playoff revenue. MU's compliance department discovered in the conference bylaws that schools are allowed to push off those withheld payments to future years.

For the 2020 fiscal year, the football team’s ticket sales revenue increased slightly to $9,573,361, while men’s basketball ticket sales plunged more than 18% to $3,663,686.

As for spending, Mizzou saved costs in recruiting expenses, team travel, athlete meals, team camps, spirit squads and spent only slightly more on salaries for coaches and staff. MU didn’t have to cover any football bowl expenses or bowl-related coaching bonuses while serving its NCAA postseason ban.

The NCAA’s recruiting dead period, now in its 12th consecutive month and in effect through May, has greatly reduced spending as coaches are prohibited from leaving Columbia for recruiting trips nor can Mizzou host prospects on official recruiting visits.

“The budget folks are loving that,” Sterk said, “because it doesn’t allow that travel to occur.”

MU paid more in severance packages, equipment and uniforms, medical insurance and significantly more for facility debt services. MU’s overhead costs decreased by 20% due to the completion of the new football south end zone football stadium complex and the cancelation of spring sporting events. MU’s other operating expenses, a nebulous category that accounts for some undefined costs, increased by $6.7 million due to payments for the new football stadium scoreboard, additional taxes and Odom’s contract buyout.

In his final year at Mizzou, Odom made $4,251,569 in total salary, benefits and bonuses, up from $3,331,088 in the 2019 fiscal year.

Missouri men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin made $2,973,683 in the 2020 fiscal year, down slightly from $2,987,799 the previous year.

After coaching and staff salaries and debt services, Mizzou spent the most on student athletic aid, more than $12.5 million, which goes back to the university to cover athletics scholarships.

For now, Mizzou is planning on a full stadium for football games this fall but will be agile in case COVID forces adjustments, like this past season when Memorial Stadium capacity was reduced to around 12,000.

“We’ll have to pivot and adjust if we’re not vaccinated enough and we don’t have herd immunity by that time,” Sterk said. “We can’t do anything but plan on not limiting our sales. So we’re excited. I think the progress that’s been made especially in the last two, three weeks of the positive (cases) going down and hospitalizations going down, we’re trending very well and hopeful that it even improves by the summer.”

MIZZOU ATHLETICS FINANCES

Category 2018-19 ... 2019-20

Ticket sales: $16,225,689 ... $16,124,731

Direct institutional support: $1,015,000 ... $1,015,000

Guarantee fees: $402,000 ... $218,447

Cash donations: $26,507,812 ... $25,931,102

In-kind contributions: $1,267,114 ... $463,636

Media rights: $38,214,046 ... $40,481,598

NCAA distributions: $2,705,238 ... $1,110,298

SEC bowl/non-bowl distributions: $11,068,646 ... $11,512,632

Programs/concessions/parking: $2,214,141 ... $2,408,893

Royalties/licensing/advertisements: $1,241,985 ... $1,107,710

Camps: $1,152,143 ... $329,909

Endowment/investment income: $1,411,083 ... $1,318,871

Bowl revenue: $505,994 ...$0

Other operating revenue: $2,679,353 ...$8,166,295

Total: $106,610,244 ... $110,189,122

2020 FISCAL YEAR EXPENSES

Category 2018-19 .... 2019-20

Athletic student aid: $12,563,894 ... $12,568,625

Guarantee fees for visiting teams: $1,445,059 ... $4,570,162

Coaches’ salaries/benefits/bonuses: $20,443,856 ... $21,918,802

Staff salaries/benefits/bonuses: $21,489,160 ... $22,999,506

Severance: $0 ... $884,855

Recruiting: $1,792,316 ... $1,463,003

Travel: $7,012,780 ... $6,364,760

Equipment/uniforms: $2,474,436 ... $3,751,034

Game expenses: $3,785,807 ... $3,703,513

Fundraising, marketing: $1,083,197 ... $1,090,487

Camps: $615,385 ... $331,121

Facilities debt/rental: $11,109,676 ... $12,918,737

Spirit groups: $649,966 ... $522,623

Medical expenses/insurance: $734,000 ... $1,166,437

Membership dues: $112,971 ... $91,296

Athlete meals: $518,697 ... $507,877

Overhead/administrative: $15,348,050 ... $12,307,451

Other operating expenses: $5,232,503 ... $11,922,380

Bowl expenses: $1,573,184 ... $0

Bowl bonuses: $413,510 ... $0

Total: $108,398,447 ... $119,082,669

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman shares his thoughts on Mizzou hoops, debates Jim Edmonds’ nickname, celebrates the birthday of a St. Charles native who played in the major leagues and, as always, chooses a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented Monday-Friday by The Milliken Hand Rehabilitation Center.

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