Inside the University of Utah athletic department, or at least on many conference calls via Zoom, there has to be at least some level of concern that the 2020 college football season will be altered or, worse yet, canceled.
The COVID-19 pandemic rolls on, there is no real, tangible end in sight. While President Donald Trump believes the NFL could begin on time in September with full stadiums, that remains to be seen and a decision on such a move is still months away.
It stands to reason that if the NFL cannot have an on-time start with fans in stadiums, then college football can’t, either, which is where the concern inside athletic departments comes into play.
College football, especially at the Power Five level, equates to millions of dollars every season. Millions of dollars in ticket sales, millions of dollars in contributions from donors and boosters, millions of dollars in media-rights revenue distribution.
Utah plays major college football in the Pac-12, which means it is fully in play with those millions of dollars. To that end, if the 2020 season is altered or canceled, the school stands to lose plenty.
According to Utah’s NCAA revenue and expense report for fiscal year 2019, the football program brought in $16,156,877 in ticket sales across seven home games. That figure accounted for just over 81% of all athletics tickets sales and nearly one quarter of total football-related revenue for fiscal 2019.
Football ticket-sale revenue has risen each season since 2016, which brought in $12,607,207 for six home games. That number was good for 74.3% of ticket sales for all of athletics in fiscal 2016.
Utah only has six home games in 2020, but the schedule is attractive. The Utes will open the season by hosting in-state forever rival BYU on Sept. 3, while also welcoming two of the Pac-12 team’s high-end programs to Rice-Eccles Stadium, USC on Oct. 2 and Washington on Oct. 17.
For what it’s worth, Utah has announced a sellout at Rice-Eccles 64 consecutive times, dating back to the 2010 season opener against Pittsburgh.
Potential losses on ticket sales are quantifiable, as are potential losses on things like what the school’s NCAA report for fiscal 2019 labeled “program, novelty, parking and concession sales,” which yielded $362,045 after $452,551 in fiscal 2018.
In fiscal 2019, Utah also pulled in $8,852,560 for “conference distribution of bowl generated revenue” and another $29,972,757 from the Pac-12. Roughly $23.8 million of that comes from the conference’s media rights deal.
Pac-12 revenue distribution for 2020 is expected to exceed $30 million for each member, but it is unclear what happens if the season is altered or canceled. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan, like all other ADs on the record to this point, is in favor of a 12-game season. Anything less than 12 games means losses well into seven figures for each individual team.
How a 12-game season gets accomplished is an entirely different conversation. The best-case scenario is an on-time start. Short of that, one option being bandied about is starting the season late and playing it between both semesters.
Doomsday-type stuff begins with what has been presented as a nine-game, conference-only season. In Utah’s case, that would mean giving up the revenue of home games against BYU and Montana State in early September.