Ohio State Buckeyes: Breaking down the pandemic’s impact on the athletic budget

Columbus, OH - November 19, 2021 - Ohio State University: Ohio Stadium prior to College GameDay Built by the Home Depot.
(Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

Credit: Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images

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Columbus, OH - November 19, 2021 - Ohio State University: Ohio Stadium prior to College GameDay Built by the Home Depot. (Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)

Credit: Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images

Ohio State knew the 2021 fiscal year would be bad for the athletic department, and it was.

A financial report prepared for the NCAA and published earlier this month shows a deficit of more than $63 million, though the school said that includes one-time payments to reduce capital loans on two recently completed buildings.

Taking that into account, the shortfall is about $41 million.

“This was a most challenging year for our department and for everyone,” Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith said in a statement that indicated the department is considering taking out an interest-bearing loan at the end of the year. “I am so proud of our student-athletes, our coaches and our support staff who continued to deliver at a championship level. Despite the difficulties we all faced working through the pandemic, we preserved our commitment to our student-athletes and the sports they love.”

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Here is a breakdown of the report with a closer look at revenue and expenses for the school’s 36-sport department, which is self-funding:

1. Total revenue for the year was $106.8 million.

That is down down almost $127 million from the previous year, an all-time high of $233.8 million.

The latter figure was boosted by a rise in donations and largely missed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March 2020.

The real numbers beat a projection published in Sept. 2020, when the school revealed it was expecting to spend about $180 million and have a deficit of $107 million for the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

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Instead, the school spent a little more than $170.5 million and experienced higher-than expected revenue.

OSU athletics had revenue of in $205.5 million in 2018 and $210.5 million in 2019.

2. The biggest revenue drops for 2021 were not surprising.

Ticket sales generate more money than anything else for the department, and they were nearly nonexistent with few or no fans allowed for most games in the fall and winter sports seasons.

Ticket revenue declined more than 99.99 percent from $65.9 million to $7,386 while there was also a precipitous drop sales of in programs, novelties, parking and concessions, one category that shrank almost 95 percent from $8.1 million to $422,847.

Donations also declined ($48.1 million to $19.7 million), while the combination of royalties, licensing, advertisement and sponsorships shrank more than 38 percent to $7.9 million.

3. It could have been worse.

Ohio State football coach Ryan Day confirmed his desire to play football in the fall of 2020 stemmed from a belief a veteran team could compete for a national championship, but for the entire conference there was major financial incentive to play: Media payouts.

Those account for more than 20 percent of Ohio State’s annual athletics budget and totaled $45.6 million per school in 2019 and $46.8 million in 2020.

That line in the 2021 ledger could have been nonexistent if there were no games to broadcast, but Ohio State received $40.5 million for the year after a truncated football season and a closer-to-normal basketball season (at least in terms of length).

Total conference distributions shrank by nearly $4.5 million to $7.2 million, and bowl revenue was down more than 40 percent to $1.9 million while the combination of royalties, licensing, advertisement and sponsorships shrank more than 38 percent to $7.9 million.

After being cut in 2020 largely because of the cancelation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the NCAA’s distribution to the school’s revenue went up to $4.7 million from $2.9 million, but it was still more than 14 percent lower than in 2019 when it was $5.5 million.

4. Football revenue was still down more than 60 percent.

Football brought in $41.9 million, down from $115.5 million the previous year while men’s basketball revenue shrank from $22.4 million to $15.4 million.

From a percentage standpoint, men’s ice hockey revenue shrank the most at 82.6 (to $183,915) while women’s volleyball (82.5 percent) and women’s basketball (75.5 percent) also had big drops.

5. Total spending was cut by more than 20 percent.

The department’s expenses came in at $170.5 million, down from $215.2 million in 2020 and $220.5 million in 2019.

A full 20 percent of the $44.6 million reduction in spending came at the expensive of the support staff, where collective spending was slashed almost 23 percent from $40.7 million in ‘20 to $31.4 million last year via furloughs, salary cuts and elimination of some positions.

Spending on coach salaries, which are contractually guaranteed, went up two percent to $36.3 million while medical expenses and insurance also rose 2.4 percent to $2.3 million.

The department saved more than $5 million apiece on team travel and game expenses while spending on “guarantee games” (fees paid to nonconference opponents) went from over $9 million in 2020 to $226,726 last year.

Bowl expenses also shrank 32 percent to $3.2 million despite the Buckeyes’ going to the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship Game last season rather than only one postseason game.

Spending on student-athlete meals increased to $5.6 million, a 34 percent increase over 2020 (when campus was shut down and everyone was sent home for a period of time) and 20 percent more than 2019 while spending on student aid went down 2.5 percent to $20.6 million.

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