In June, Tech approved a budget for fiscal-year 2021 that projected $13 million in ticket sales out of a total revenue projection of $81 million. It was a drop of $7 million from the department’s ticket revenue in the previous fiscal year.
As it turns out, the $13 million projection may be optimistic. That number was generated from a model that capped attendance at Bobby Dodd Stadium at 50% for social-distancing purposes, as well as no change in attendance in ticket sales for winter and spring sports. On Friday, Stansbury estimated that stadium capacity will be “probably anywhere from 15 to 30%, somewhere in there.” Beyond that, the projection counts on a full season actually being played.
There’s also the possibility that payouts from ESPN may be reduced if the league cannot deliver a full season of games. Tech’s budget is counting on $33 million in ACC distributions, much of it passed along from ESPN. Stansbury said he didn’t know how an incomplete season would affect TV money distributions.
“One of the reasons that we did a 10-plus one (schedule model, meaning 10 ACC games plus one non-conference game) was really to put us in a position to fulfill our television obligations, so that’s the intent going in,” he said.
Hence, Stanbury’s queasiness over an impending financial trial. While the athletic department is completing a $125 million capital campaign, those gifts cannot be used to cover budgetary shortfalls, as they are earmarked for other purposes. Likewise, endowment money generally has designated targets and can’t be redirected.
The campaign’s plan is to convince season-ticket holders and single-game purchasers to exchange their payments for tickets into straight donations if games aren’t able to be played, or if stadium-capacity limits or health concerns prevent fans from attending. Having more certainty over the budget can help Stansbury figure out how much needs to be pared.
Asked if cutting a team was a possible solution if the finances remain in critical condition, Stansbury didn’t directly answer the question, though a more likely outcome might be reducing staff or operations that don’t directly impact Tech athletes.
Just as Stansbury and chief financial officer Marvin Lewis are making financial models based on different stadium capacities, “we’re also modeling what does our program look like if we don’t reach certain thresholds in those revenue streams,” Stansbury said.
The financial pressures illustrate again the dependence of the college athletics industry on football, even in the midst of a pandemic that has led lower-tier leagues to cancel their seasons. Stansbury said that no Tech athletes had elected to opt out of competing this academic year because of health concerns.
“I just know that, with the student-athletes that I’ve interacted with and seen, they are just so glad to be back and getting ready to do what they love to do,” he said. “But that’s not to say that there won’t be some that decide to opt out.”