W&M Football Revenue At Risk

With sports executives across the four major professional leagues strategizing return-to-play scenarios, the NCAA faces unique challenges of its own. One question lingers above all others: what will the NCAA do about football?

From the FBS to FCS, and all across Division-I, football continues to be the primary revenue driver for athletics programs across the country.

The fact of the matter is, football drives a disproportionate amount of revenue — money that supports sports teams across each school. 

And surprise, surprise, W&M football’s revenue is at-risk. In other news, water is wet. But let’s dig deeper.

According to the Virginia Gazette, W&M football generated a whopping $5.413 million in revenue during the 2018-2019 school year — nearly 20% of W&M Athletics’ entire operating budget ($29.31M in 2018).

That revenue number probably comes as a surprise for many of you — but we assure you, it’s real.

via the VA Gazette

Despite the program’s “small” scope relative to in-state comrades UVA and Virginia Tech, $5 million is still a lot of money.

For comparison’s sake, below are a few other football programs’ revenue numbers:

  • Virginia Tech: $57.6M
  • Virginia: $32.55M
  • JMU: $6.94M

Really, the only school that’s fair to compare W&M against is JMU — a fellow CAA “mid-major” — but one that is largely known as a sports powerhouse, especially in FCS football.

Lo and behold, W&M does not trail JMU by much in terms of football revenue — at least not in 2018, two years after the Dukes claimed a National Championship.

But with these numbers in mind, we beg the question: if students aren’t allowed on campus this Fall, will NCAA football even occur this season?

And if it does, what will it look like for athletes in the world of COVID-19? What changes, if any, should fans expect?

We endeavored to find out.

That doesn’t look like social distancing to me! Questions loom large this football season.

(via Michael Smith, Sports Business Journal)

  • Every athletic department in the country is evaluating its cost-cutting options and many of them start with travel. I asked John Anthony, founder & CEO of Anthony Travel, which manages travel for close to 90 schools, what trends he’s seeing.
  • Across college athletics:
    • Reduced travel parties across all sports.
    • More regional competition for non-conference games, especially in Olympic sports. (WMSB Take: expect far more games against in-state local schools…we consider this a benefit)
    • Negotiating out of longer trips for this upcoming season and pushing back a season or two. (WMSB Take: would W&M football still play @ Stanford on 9/5?)
    • More teams traveling by bus over commercial or charter air. Schools are looking at a threshold of 400 miles to dictate travel by ground or flight, similar to the policy employed by the NCAA for tournament travel. (WMSB Take: thankfully, the CAA isn’t too geographically dispersed…ODU’s conference will have major issues on this front)
    • Elimination of football teams staying in a hotel the night before a home game. (WMSB Take: i.e. more nights in their dorms for W&M football players prior to home games)
    • Travel out and back the same day for day games. (WMSB Take: scheduling local competition would make this doable)
  • Hotel trends:
    • Some schools are not signing hotel contracts until July.
    • Some schools are lowering their cap on hotel rates.
    • Breakfast: hotels may not be allowed to serve a public buffet upon reopening, depending on local health policies. (WMSB Take: God help Sadler and the “Caf” upon reopening…)
    • Schools are asking how social distancing, cleaning and group numbers impact check-in and elevators.
  • Air travel trends:
    • Charter air is still the choice for basketball and football programs, but there is a deeper review of charter options vs. staying with the same carrier they have used year after year. 
    • Olympic sports are evaluating where they typically will charter and considering commercial air costs.
    • Anthony: “We don’t necessarily see P5 football programs flying commercial, but potentially more teams would bus.” For a typical away game that’s a 4-5 hour drive, programs could save approximately $100,000 if they bus versus taking a charter flight.

In all, it would be a grind for football players on campus this Fall.

The most notable change being a plethora of virus-related safety procedure implementations, including: strict social distancing measures, constant sterilization, food distribution restrictions, and more.

Cost-cutting measures will also play an outsized role if football returns in the Fall — including greater bus travel, potential schedule changes, and sourcing of local competition, among other major changes.

But we have to ask ourselves: if schools can’t justify hosting any students on campus for classes this Fall, can they really justify bringing football back?

And for smaller, FCS schools such as William & Mary — schools that aren’t tied to massive TV media rights deals (that need to be fulfilled through the playing of games; such are the requirements of the Power 5 Conferences) — is it even worth it?

One thing is for certain: if football does not occur this season, W&M, and college athletics programs across the country, face massive revenue losses.

And in W&M Athletics’ case, that number can creep up to as much as 18% of its total operating budget.

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