The University of New Mexico athletics department, fresh off reporting a $1.54 million deficit for fiscal year 2016 and with ominous early returns on the current fiscal year’s finances, could ask for an increase in student fees to maintain their current level of spending, according to a memo to a Board of Regents committee.
The memo, outlining a discussion scheduled to take place at Tuesday’s Board of Regents’ finance and facilities committee meeting, opens “with the poor FY16 financial performance still fresh in everyone’s mind,” which was the seventh time in the past nine years athletics has finished in the red. It later states that if ticket sales don’t pick up, and “if in fact the elimination of sports programs is off the table,” then increasing revenue from student fees “will need to be thoroughly evaluated.”
The memo, which says it is too early to make revenue projections, indicates “several” administrative positions are frozen and will remain so for the “foreseeable future” and team travel is “being minimized.”
Athletic director Paul Krebs wasn’t tipping his hand as to what specifically will be said in the meeting.
“At this time, any comments will be reserved for the F&F meeting,” he wrote in an email to the Journal.
The department knows it must shave $140,000 after last week’s special legislative session passed a budget that included a 5 percent cut for all universities in the state ($15.5 million at UNM). Gov. Susana Martinez must still act on the budget to make that cut official. It is also bracing for the likelihood of another year of dropping ticket sales in both football and men’s basketball.
Through three of six home football games, the Lobos are averaging 20,054 fans per home game, almost 3,500 fewer than last year’s average home attendance that missed budget projections by $400,000.
Lobo men’s basketball season ticket renewals dropped this year and as of Friday, less than a month before the first exhibition game, the department had sold just 8,661. On Sept. 7, 2015, two months prior to a season that missed ticket sales projections by $350,000, UNM had already sold 8,947 season tickets.
When UNM athletics in August first reported to a Board of Regents finance and facilities committee its $1.54 million deficit, the news was taken in relative stride with little scrutiny of the handling of what is annually about a $32 million budget.
More than one regent on the committee remarked during that presentation about their collective optimism of things to come for Lobo athletics, specifically in the direction of the football team and the expectations that attendance would improve this season.
“I’d say it’s optimism with accountability,” Marron Lee, the board’s vice president, told the Journal after that meeting. “Obviously we have concerns. We have the fiduciary responsibility of the entire university.”
UNM President Robert G. Frank, who publicly has been very supportive of athletics when questioned in the past several years about the departments relative struggles to make budget, acknowledged in August, “We’ve got to get more people to football games.”
There are 24 athletics department employees with base salaries over $100,000, and 10 of those are on the football staff.
So far this season, despite the optimism from administrators that better days were ahead, beer and wine sales and stepped-up marketing efforts, the results have not led to better attendance in University Stadium for the Lobos, which have a 2-3 record and are 2-1 at home. The school’s Oct. 1 homecoming win over San Jose State took place in front of an announced crowd of just 19,852, marking the 10th time in the coach Bob Davie era of fewer than 20,000 for a Lobos home game.
“I think Paul (Krebs) has been very clear,” Frank said in August. “Football is the biggest cost, but it’s the biggest opportunity. I’m a big Bob Davie fan. I’m a big Bob Davie believer. We’re going the right direction with Bob.”
The football team did collect a check for $900,000 for playing at Rutgers on Sept. 17 and the department is crossing its fingers that the scheduled payment of $600,000 from WisePies comes in December for the naming rights to the Pit.