Few football fans who watched the bowl games this past weekend or will watch the BCS Championship Bowl next Monday realize what poor financial deals they are for the students, the alumni, or the participating schools. Though ProCon.org reports that “nearly $250 million in bowl game revenue was paid out to college football teams and conferences in 2008,” bowl game profits go mostly to their promoters.
For students and alumni, bowl attendance means yet another opportunity to support their alma maters financially as well as emotionally. Yet the cost of tickets purchased from the participating schools’ ticket departments (e.g., $175 plus $600 reservation fee per Rose Bowl ticket) prompts many attendees to purchase tickets from unofficial sources. According to Austin Murphy and Dan Wetzel of Sports Illustrated, tickets for the 2009 Music City Bowl sold for as little as 19 cents on StubHub.
For the participating schools, these alternatives mean financial disaster. Added to the financial bath they take on mandatory ticket allotments, transportation, and housing, the bowls charge schools for every conceivable expense. The Tampa Bay Bowl Association, for example, charged the University of Iowa $65 a head for its 346-member marching band’s free half-time performance at the 2009 Outback Bowl.
Rather than shoring up schools’ athletic budgets, these expenditures add to the shortfall in their athletic budgets. Even powerhouses like Ohio State lose money. After sharing its $21 million payoff with other members of the Big Ten Conference, OSU’s athletic department owed almost $80,000 after expenses despite the $2.2 million share from its 2010 Rose Bowl appearance.
Such shortfalls propagate more of the same. Because profit-sharing from major bowls supports the less prestigious ones and because coaches and athletic directors’ jobs often rely on bowl appearances, the system perpetuates itself. Add to those factors the brand recognition bowl appearances have for prospective students and parents, and it’s no surprise that few people question the mid six-figure salaries that promoters like Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan enjoy.
According to Murphy and Wetzel, those programs which did not participate in bowl games actually made money. While they regard this irony as another justification for a playoff system, more feasible solutions may be for schools to reject mandatory ticket allotments and eliminate coaches’ contract incentives tied to bowl appearances. Alumni and fans must weigh the bowls’ entertainment value against their hidden costs and either not attend or turn off their sets.
What do you think?