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UNM athletics to post another deficit, builds 2018 budget on optimistic projections

The University of New Mexico athletics department projects it will bring in more revenue — $34.3 million — this fiscal year than at any point in at least a decade.

And the rosy budget proposal for next year turned in Wednesday to the Board of Regents projects another $33.5 million in revenue.

Not bad for a department that, according to documents it has provided to the Journal through the years, has never reached the $33 million mark.

But that’s where the cherry-colored glasses view of the financial fortunes of Lobo athletics stops.

Also presented Wednesday to the regents was the harsh reality the embattled UNM athletic department is also spending more than ever. It projects it will post a deficit of $97,811 on June 30 when the books officially close on the 2017 fiscal year.

That would mark the eighth time in the past decade UNM athletics has finished with a deficit. Last year’s $1.54 million in the red was by far the worst in that stretch. It will bring the accumulated debt the department owes the university to an estimated $4.4 million .

“There is an expectation for us to balance the budget and we’re working to get that done,” said UNM deputy athletic director Brad Hutchins. “We’re still hoping between now and (June 30) we manage to get that number down.”

But, as it stood Wednesday, Hutchins said athletics is bracing to report a shortfall despite getting $1.5 million unbudgeted from football television appearances last season and saving $170,000 by freezing numerous positions.

The past year had numerous financial difficulties in the department — namely missing ticket sales projections by a significant margin in all three revenue sports (men’s basketball, football and women’s basketball).

Still, the ticket sales projections for all three of those sports for the 2017-18 fiscal year are set higher today than what any of those sports made this past season.

Numbers Hutchins provided to the Journal in March showed UNM projected the following ticket shortfalls for this past year:

• Men’s basketball: $671,572

• Football: $544,052

• Women’s basketball: $104,211

• Total: $1,319,835

While it was not clear what changed since then, the numbers Hutchins presented Wednesday show the university lost even more money on ticket sales for football and men’s basketball and less on women’s basketball. Overall, those three revenue sports came up short by more than $1.7 million in ticket sales UNM had budgeted, and spent, for:

• Men’s basketball: $856,921

• Football: $780,143

• Women’s basketball: $82,435

• Total: $1,719,499

So when next year’s ticket projections were presented on Wednesday, it made Regent President Rob Doughty question, though ultimately accept, the rationale of setting projections so high again for the coming year when historical data indicates that the department isn’t hitting the mark.

UNM athletics is projecting for the 2018 football season $1.9 million in ticket sales, a number it has not reached since the 2008 season, the final season under former head coach Rocky Long.

Hutchins pointed out the team, coming off a second consecutive bowl game, hosts New Mexico State this season and that should help ticket sales, as should the recently lowered prices for tickets.

For men’s basketball, which will also see a price reduction sometime this offseason (though Hutchins would not tell the Journal how much or when it would be announced), UNM is projecting $4.2 million in ticket revenue. Hutchins pointed out the scheduled Arizona game in the Pit in December is expected to be the first sellout since the 2014-15 season and an increase in excitement for a first-year head coach in Paul Weir should help sales.

Men’s basketball sold $4.6 million in tickets two seasons ago and $3.9 million this past season.

For women’s basketball, the projection of $330,000 was last eclipsed in the 2013-14 season.

Still, with the recent Dreamstyle naming rights deal, a reduction in salaries for several sports, the elimination of seven positions, the university says it is comfortable with the budget athletics turned in on Wednesday.

“I’m very optimistic that athletics can hit the 2018 projection and have a balanced budget next year,” Doughty told the Journal.

That is similar optimism expressed last summer about things to come when athletics reported its $1.54 million deficit.

“I’d say it’s optimism with accountability,” regent Marron Lee told the Journal on Aug. 1, 2016, about athletics changing it’s financial fortunes. “Obviously we have concerns. We have the fiduciary responsibility of the entire university.”

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