Prep sports: Postseason revenue keeps up with rising costs
A state championship game under the lights at Rice-Eccles Stadium is a dream come true for a high school football player.
It means a lot to the Utah High School Activities Association, too.
Ticket sales for state tournaments make up 80 percent of the association's annual revenue, with most of that money coming from basketball and football games.
And business has been good enough to offset rising venue costs.
"Some of our very best revenue years have been the last five years," UHSAA director Rob Cuff said.
Between 2007 and 2011, postseason football has grossed more than $1.86 million. The Class 3A, 4A and 5A games held at Rice-Eccles have grossed an average of $327,000 a season in that time.
Those figures have allowed the association to reduce its members' dues by half and have helped offset rising venue costs for all of the state tournaments, including those that don't make money.
The UHSAA still is totaling its revenue numbers from the most recent football championships, but at least one day fell far short of expectations. After Dixie upset Juan Diego to advance to the Class 3A state title game, the Flyers capped a daylong storm by sliding in the snow and making snow angels. Not many were around to see it.
"That day was very, very low," Cuff said. "What we pay Rice-Eccles and what we brought in, we didn't break even.
"There are two main factors: weather, even for indoor events because people hesitate to travel in the snow, and matchups. It's just the luck of the draw sometimes what our revenue is going to be."
About 10,000 people need to buy tickets for each day of the three-day tournament for UHSAA to offset the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to use Rice-Eccles Stadium.
That's the reason the 2A football championships won't be held on the Utah campus, or why the 1A girls' basketball tournament likely won't ever tip off at Weber State University.
"Our expenses would be way too high," Cuff said. "We have to look at the cost. We have to look at the geography. We have to weigh all of that. It would be great to do all football at Rice-Eccles Stadium, all basketball somewhere, but economically, I think our board does a good job."
And the cost almost always is rising.
"It goes up pretty much every year," stadium director Mark Burk said.
Burk estimated the University of Utah raises its price about 4 percent each season to meet expenses, particularly labor costs.
The snowstorm that kept fans away earlier this year also meant the Rice-Eccles staff had to work overtime to keep the field clear.
"That was the biggest snow-removal effort we've ever had to do, college or high school," Burk said.
It all comes with a price tag.
"Labor is the No. 1 thing," said Mark Hildebrand, director of the Utah Community Credit Union Center in Orem, where the state wrestling, volleyball and drill team competitions are held. "The utilities, even the cost of cleaning supplies just like everything, the price goes up with inflation."
But for the athletes who make it to one of the state's premier venues, it's worth the price of admission.
"It's a goal for them to set for themselves at the start of the year," said Dixie football coach Blaine Monkres, whose Flyers won the 3A title at Rice-Eccles in November. "Last year, Cedar and Desert Hills decided to play their semifinal at Dixie State, and it just wasn't quite the same."
UHSAA gross revenue by sport in 2011-12
Baseball (fall and spring) • $76,904
Basketball (boys and girls) • $553,911
Drill team • $55,095
Football • $387,302
Soccer (boys and girls) • $84,493
Softball • $44,381
Swimming • $28,120
Track • $45,354
Volleyball • $94,779
Wrestling • $103,164
Source • Utah High School Activities Association