Portfolio: Strong ticket sales, donations boost UO athletics

Appeared in Salem Statesman Journal Aug. 22, 2010

Although the University of Oregon athletic department seems in good financial shape, there are a number of unknowns heading into the next few years.

The Ducks increased athletic spending 50 percent during the past five years, up from $40 million in 2005-09 to $60 million in 2008-09, according to a USA TODAY database.

The national leader in spending for 2008-09 was Texas at $127.6 million.

Strong ticket sales and support from donors such as Nike’s Phil Knight have helped Oregon become one of 30 Division I schools that received no institutional support last year, according to USA TODAY.

University president Richard Lariviere declined to comment on athletic spending, saying that because no general fund money goes to the athletic department, the issue wasn’t his to speak on.

“The bottom line is that the athletic department, being self-sufficient, essentially runs its own show as long as it stays within budget and adheres to the university’s larger academic mission,” UO spokesman Joe Mosley said in an e-mail to the Statesman Journal.

The department came under scrutiny this year after it was revealed that outgoing athletic director Mike Bellotti had been working without a contract and was scheduled to receive $2.3 million in severance when he left the university for a broadcasting job with ESPN.

The university responded to the criticism by hiring accounting-focused Rob Mullens to replace Bellotti and appointing former law school associate dean for finance Jamie Moffitt to the new position of executive senior associate athletic director for finance and administration.

Moffitt came on board in April. Mullens’ first day was Monday.

The pair took over a department that reported $59 million in revenue in 2008-09, the first time in the five years of the USA TODAY database in which the Ducks spent more than they brought in.

Moffitt said the difference was largely an accounting issue: Pledged contributions came in after the end of the fiscal year but before the start of football season and restored balance to the books.

Oregon reported $17.9 million in contributions, accounting for 30 percent of its budget, followed next by $17.1 in ticket sales and $10.7 in NCAA and conference distributions, which is largely payments for postseason play and television rights.

The Oregon athletic department spends money in four main areas; student aid, coaching salaries, administrative costs and facilities.

The Ducks have increased spending on salaries by 120 percent during the past five years to $9.3 million last year.

Football coach Chip Kelly signed a five-year deal that will pay him at least $7 million and new men’s basketball coach Dana Altman’s $1.8 million annual deal will be on the books for 2009-10 (former coach Ernie Kent earned about $1.1 million).

The steep increases in total spending during the past five years most likely will continue at least through the 2009-10 academic year, although after that the forecast is less clear.

Next year’s budget will reflect the assessed value of the new John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes, which an Oregonian public records request found to cost $41 million to build and furnish.

Matthew Knight Arena, a 12,500-seat, $200-million facility, also is scheduled to open in time for the 2011 Pac-10 Conference basketball season.
Oregon athletic officials hope that the addition of the arena will produce more sports revenue (Oregon basketball brought in around $2.5 million in ticket sales in 2008-09) and also attract outside events.

“There has been a lot of growth in our department and it’s important to stay operationally focused,” Moffitt said.

“Just because we have our arena opening up we can’t take our eye off the ball in terms of everything that has to happen for a football game day. ”

The department hasn’t felt significant impact from the economic downturn, something Moffitt is hopeful won’t overly affect athletics going forward.

The crowds, especially for football, showed up last year. The Ducks welcomed their 68th-consecutive sellout at Autzen for the 2009 Civil War, which was played in front of a record crowd of 59,597.

“I don’t expect our revenues are going to go down because of the economy because some of our ticket prices went up and sales are still being made,” she said.
“It’s certainly not something where we’re saying we’re going to drop $5 million because of the economy, but I do think it affects at the margins what’s going on.”

Moffitt said the future direction of the department still is developing as Mullens moves into the job, although the expansion of the Pac-10 to 12 teams and a new media contract also will have a significant impact on anything the school does.

“In terms of the next five years, that’s something Rob, coming into his position, needs to think about and learn about,” Moffitt said.

“And that’s what he’s doing, meeting with different people and understanding the issues and then articulating a business plan from that.”

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