Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The slide continues.
Last spring, amid criticism that its ticket revenue projections were unrealistic, the University of New Mexico athletics department lowered its forecast for 2018 football ticket revenue to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars.
It turns out even that low bar was way too high.
Final figures show that not only were ticket sales revenues more than 25 percent lower than projected, they were more than 40 percent below the 2017 total.
UNM budgeted this season expecting $1.2 million in football ticket sales,well below the $1.9 million and $2 million written into previous years’ budgets.
But UNM took in only $881,095 in ticket sales during the season, a 42.7 percent drop from the reported $1.5 million collected in fiscal year 2017, according to figures as of Nov. 30.
Of the $881,000 it took in, about $415,700 was earned during November, when the Lobos hosted games against San Diego State, Boise State and Wyoming.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said he was disappointed that ticket sales for the six home dates did not meet expectations.
“We were hoping for the numbers to be better,” Nuñez said. “It’s unfortunate, but we understand where we are, and we’re going to fight every day to try to make that fan experience and that product on the field where it needs to be.”
The quality of the team’s play is a key component, but improving the overall fan experience is also important, he said, something the department will examine in preparation for next season.
“We’ve got to make this not just a football game that people are coming to,” he said. “We’ve got to make this an event with a football game. We’ve got to look at everything. Can we do concerts? Can we bring in community partnerships that allow something maybe with the balloon festival, for example. Those kind of things are important when trying to bring more of the community into our events – trying to maximize how we can make these events great.”
The Lobos finished the season with a 3—9 record, 1—7 against Mountain West Conference foes.
UNM’s average home attendance in 2018 was 16,587, a 21.7 percent decrease from the 2017 average attendance of 21,195, which included a home game against instate rival New Mexico State.
The average home attendance figures in 2016 and 2015 were 20,277 and 23,528 respectively, which included appearances in the New Mexico Bowl both years. The stadium, which saw its first game on Sept. 17, 1960, when the Lobos defeated the University of Mexico 77-6, maintains a seating capacity of 39,224.
And the significance of those low attendance figures is evident when it’s time to do the bookkeeping.
According to UNM financial figures, the football program brought in about $1.2 million in FY 2016 and $1.7 million in FY 2015.
That means tightening the belt within the department, Nuñez said.
“We’re trying to be more efficient and more effective – working with community partners, trying to see where we can bridge some of the expenses that we have,” he said. “But one of the major components is sitting down with our staff and coaches and trying to find ways we can get to our result in a more efficient way. We want to make sure that we do everything to the best of our ability and be transparent, and try to do it with the mindset that we want do right with our budget.”
The athletics department’s repeated deficits have caused heartburn inside and outside the university. The department has finished in the red eight times since fiscal year 2008, and last year would have been the ninth had regents not infused an extra $2.1 million to fend off another shortfall.
The financial problems prompted the New Mexico Higher Education Department to place the university under enhanced fiscal oversight. UNM regents now require the department to give monthly budget updates and regularly monitor revenue and expenses, and adjust as necessary to avoid deficits.