SALT LAKE CITY — Like a running back looking for the endzone, college athletic departments are trying to find conferences that can make them the most money.
Public schools in the Pac-12 averaged revenues of $74 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, according to the database maintained by Sportico. That was about 55% of what their counterparts in the SEC received.
The University of Utah athletic department earned $51 million in 2020-2021.
“The discrepancy is much smaller than what it will be in 2024, when all these moves are likely to be made,” said Emily Caron, a sports business reporter at Sportico.
The Big Ten, which will soon include UCLA and the University of Southern California, could sell its television and other media rights for more than $1 billion.
“Whereas before USC and UCLA defected,” Caron said, “the PAC-12, was probably looking at a number closer to $500 million. Without them, they're probably looking at a number closer to $300 million if they don't lose other members.”
Rights to football and men’s basketball could determine whether universities keep funding sports that don’t make money.
Sportico’s database says Utah athletics had annual profits of about $3 million in each of the two fiscal years before the pandemic. Then in 2020-2021, it lost $31 million.
“If you don't spend to upgrade your facilities, you may have a harder time recruiting an athlete that may play a role in helping you win a championship,” said Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University. “And if you don't win championships, then you may not be in a position where you can sell as many tickets to keep the whole machine going.”
Caron also has bad news for schools from poorer conferences – like Utah State University.
“No offense to Utah State fans,” she said, “ those second-tier sort of media properties or athletic programs… you don't need to give them as much money when you have kind of the cream of the crop, and you have the most primetime slots that you want.”
Sportico says the Aggies have toggled between slight profits and slight deficits in recent years.