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College Football: Kickoff or Kick in the Butt?

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

September 1, 2011

College football players are used to getting hit.  But 2011 so far, for players and fans alike, has been the mother of all pile drivers.

College football programs and their loyal fans have suffered mightily in 2011, from a devastating tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Hurricane Irene damage and delays to equally as devastating scandals (Ohio State and Miami) and criminal mischief (the sad fate of Auburn’s “Toomer’s Corner” oak trees, poisoned by a psychotic ‘Bama fan).

Displacement has also been a common theme.  Thanks to multiple conference realignments in the off-season, fans will need a GPS to track down such teams as Colorado and Utah, which just joined the Pac-12; Nebraska, which left the Big 12 for the Big Ten; Boise State, now taking its blue act to the Mountain West; and BYU, still in Provo but now an independent.

In the latest realignment kerfluffle, Texas A&M University on Wednesday announced that it has formally notified the Big 12 that it will submit an application to join another athletic conference.  If the application is accepted, A&M will end its membership in the Big 12 effective June 30, 2012.  But hang on to your ten gallon hat: according to multiple sources, the SEC, A&M’s likely target, said that it "had not received an application from Texas A&M to join the league and that it would have no further comment.”

Will A&M’s home remain on the range?

Despite all these tackles for a loss, college football is fitter, and hotter, than ever.  TV rights deals such as the Pac-12’s landmark $2.7 billion broadcast agreement, and the University of Texas’ joint venture with ESPN (called the Longhorn Network if you’re from Texas or ESPN  Moo if you hail from, say, Arkansas or Oklahoma), represent millions of dollars annually in newfound revenue.

Single-game ticket prices for college football’s hottest matchups have surged 30% in three years, to an average of $65,” according to the Portland Oregonian. The "brisk rise, far outpacing inflation, illustrates the high demand for games despite the lingering effects of the recession."  The “highest-priced ticket still is Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, at $125, while a ticket to any South Florida or Louisville game can be had for 10 bucks.”

Notre Dame, among other schools, is adopting a pro sports variable pricing tactic for marquee games, is now asking “$70 for the South Floridas of its schedule and $80 for the USCs.”  And Stanford, behind Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck, has similarly raised its big game prices (yes, even for Big Game) from $45 to $75 since 2008.  New swaths of premium seating in college football stadiums are also creating new revenue streams for schools.

Between TV and tickets, collegiate athletic budgets on the whole continue to climb.  Of the 52 schools that recently provided annual budget information to SportsBusiness Journal, 30 have increased spending by 10% or more in the last three years—and 17 have increased their athletic budgets by 15% or more.

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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard eBook
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.

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