December 16, 2010
UConn! You've just finished the best football season in school history to earn an improbable berth in the Fiesta Bowl! What are you going to do next?
According to the New Haven Register, the university's going to take a financial bath.
[Related: Change comes to BCS game]
BCS games are supposed to be a big payday, and on paper, they are: The Fiesta Bowl is doling out $17 million to both the Big East and the Big 12. Based on the Big East's revenue-sharing plan, the Huskies are guaranteed somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 million of that, with other revenue streams bringing their cut of the conference pie up to about $3 million. Not bad, until you start to add up the expense of traveling to a major bowl game, beginning with ticket obligations:
The Fiesta Bowl distributed 17,500 tickets to UConn, and the school is responsible to sell them all. The cheapest of those tickets cost $111 (in the lower end zone) and can cost as much as $268 for club level.
… and hotel obligations:
[…] a total of 550 rooms at three different hotels ranging in price from $125-225 a night, not including tax, with blocks reserved for either three or seven nights. Additional expenses include a chartered flight and meals for the team, staff and 300-member band, as well as a $100,000 bonus to coach Randy Edsall, and smaller bonuses for assistants, per their contracts, for getting the team to a BCS bowl.
Cost of any tickets or hotel rooms that go unfilled are absorbed by the university, with the exception of the 150 rooms at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, where UConn is on the hook for only half of money owed on unsold rooms at the $225-a-night hotel.
Whether UConn maximizes its revenue opportunity will depend on the amount of tickets it can sell. The school will almost certainly take a bath. As of Monday night, only 4,000 tickets had been sold, meaning UConn was still holding roughly $2.5 million in unsold tickets.
Meanwhile, on StubHub.com, Terrace Level tickets are starting at $25 – barely a fifth of the cost of the cheapest tickets allocated to the university. Which is how coach Randy Edsall has found himself in the position of acting as a pitchman for the greater Phoenix area just to get his own fans to come to the biggest game in school history:
"If you have the opportunity and the wherewithal to make it happen, (you) should make it happen, because this is a once in a lifetime experience for the most part," Edsall said. [… ]
"[I]t's a lot warmer in Phoenix than anyplace in Connecticut from December 26 to January 2. I'm glad I'll be in Phoenix. I might be shoveling, but it will be sand, not snow, and I'll be sitting by a pool."
That's par for the course, by the way, whether or not the coach goes out of his way to stump for the destination. When Florida won the BCS championship in 2008, the university's profit from the advertised $17 million payday amounted to $47,000 – and that was with in-state travel, to Miami. The Gators took a loss on their 2006 BCS title trip to Glendale, as did their opponent, Ohio State.
[Rewind: Pro team faces $120 million debt]
Further down the chain, Nebraska is almost certainly going to lose money on its return trip to the Holiday Bowl, because it's footing the bill for the band this time. (The 'Huskers broke even on their trip to San Diego last year, in part by making the band pay its own way to the game.) Those scrubby bowl games that have popped up over the last decade to fill afternoon airtime on ESPN over the holidays – many of which are subsidized or owned outright by ESPN – regularly take back a significant chunk of the payout in the form of ticket guarantees.
Just about everybody loses money on bowl games, or comes close – except television and the bowl games themselves, which is why they continue to exist. No one has ever turned down a bowl for financial reasons ("Hey, highly touted recruit, you won't even go to a bowl game at Rival U because they're too cheap!"), and won't anytime soon. But remember that they're usually paying for the privilege.
[Related: Staggering cost of London Olympics]
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