At the University of New Mexico, men’s basketball is king.
It’s the sport with the largest national profile, biggest in-state fan base and easily brings in the most revenue in terms of ticket sales.
But does Lobo basketball actually make money?
“It probably does, but I think it depends on what you look at,” UNM athletic director Paul Krebs said. “Are you adding in their operating budget? Their scholarships? The cost of all the salaries and benefits? Then what are you using as the revenue they generate? Are you using the Lobo Club? Just true ticket sales? Are you putting in the debt services?”
The 2012-13 Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act budget figures turned in by UNM to the U.S. Department of Education shows men’s basketball netting a $767,812 profit in “total operating revenue” and “total operating expenses.” Those figures don’t include the debt service for the $60 million Pit renovation, for which UNM pays more than $3 million per year.
On the other hand, that profit figure doesn’t factor in how much of the $2.8 million in Lobo Club revenue can be attributed solely to the countless fans who wouldn’t join other than to get their basketball season tickets; how much of the school’s merchandise sales are basketball driven; how much of the $384,000 in parking revenue is from basketball games; or other factors that aren’t broken down by sport in the budget.
What is known is that men’s basketball is not only the school’s most visible sport nationally, but it is also the hottest ticket in the state. UNM sold tickets in the Pit at 98 percent capacity during the 2013-14 season and brought in more than $4.5 million in ticket revenue – a record high despite having 15 home games this past season, when in most years there are 16.
But that doesn’t mean men’s basketball has a blank check. The team’s profits, as Krebs told the Journal during a spring interview, go in part toward funding other sports.
“They don’t eat what they kill,” Krebs said. “Every dollar basketball gets isn’t necessarily theirs to spend. That doesn’t mean they’re shortchanged. I think anybody associated with our basketball program would tell you they are not shortchanged. They have more tools in their toolbox. They have more resources available to them – as much or more than anybody in our league.”
Budget data reviewed by the Journal show men’s basketball is the only sport turning a profit.
Football, the sport raking in billions of dollars across the country, remains an albatross locally. The same figures that showed basketball turning a $767,812 profit in 2012-13 show UNM football losing $4,086,307.
All the same other variables apply to football, too, but nobody is arguing that sport is the primary source of merchandise sales, Lobo Club involvement or parking revenue.
For an athletic department which posted a $700,000 deficit in 2012-13, it’s hard not to see that fixing football is a priority.
“I would characterize football as the one real opportunity for us where we can really make some hay financially,” Krebs said. “It’s probably the one untapped, the most opportunity to generate additional revenues of the things that we can control outright at UNM. There’s a real opportunity to move our program forward with an enhanced football program and the corresponding revenues that could come with that.”
The UNM brass seems to have confidence in football head coach Bob Davie, entering his third season with a 7-18 record at UNM. The school is quick to point out that his seven wins is the same total as the previous four seasons combined (it’s the second line of his online biography on the school’s website). Then again, judging his success against that of his predecessor isn’t exactly a measuring stick most fans care to entertain.
Financially, progress is even harder to point to.
Football brought in $1.7 million in ticket revenue and $1.3 million in guarantee game money for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The ticket revenue figure was about 1.6 million for this past season, UNM says.
But football also costs far more than any other sport in terms of equipment, game- day expenses, coaching salaries and scholarships.
“Football is not doing what it should do overall, financially,” UNM President Robert G. Frank acknowledged. “But we have absolutely the best coach in the country, I believe, in our program today on track to build our program at a rate that we’ve asked him to build that program. I wouldn’t trade our coach for anybody.”
Frank noted that Davie has not yet had the benefit of having a recruiting class run the course of a full four years in the program, suggesting Davie is indeed on a four- or five-year plan.
“I’d say we’re two or three years away from realizing what he’s got to offer us,” Frank said. “I’m real patient with him, and I hope our fans are as patient as I am.”
Despite the obvious difference in results, Davie’s current contract pays him more in base salary and compensation ($760,000) than UNM pays men’s basketball coach Craig Neal ($750,000), though head coaching experience is also in Davie’s corner – seven seasons as a head coach for Davie compared with one for Neal.
Other than men’s basketball and football, no other sports across the country typically are considered moneymakers, which may also beg the question of how many sports are enough or even too many.
UNM isn’t considering trimming any of its 21 sports. In fact, it is in the process of adding women’s sand volleyball, which it can do on the cheap considering much of the indoor volleyball program infrastructure currently in place could be used for each sport.
While a sport like skiing is the only sport at UNM with a national title, it has very little fan involvement around the state, is not a varsity level sport at any high school in the state and costs nearly $1 million per year to operate.
The importance of Olympic sports, Krebs said, is “they provide opportunities – opportunities for men and women. They provide diversity … the international flavor of our ski team.
“The fact is New Mexico has a vibrant, healthy ski industry, and we help support that by bringing notoriety to (it). … The student-athlete in skiing works just as hard as any other student-athlete, probably has less support financially than most of the programs, yet is incredibly successful.”
Frank agrees that there is more to the school having a sport than the bottom line of a budget.
“Every student that comes to the University of New Mexico, we want them to engage in something that makes them love this school,” Frank, the one-time UNM swimmer, said. “… It’s a fantastic experience for you. I had the privilege to have it happen to me. It changed my life. It opened doors for me that created my personal identity and gave me a skill set that has done pretty good for me.”