COLUMBIA — In its first season in the Southeastern Conference, the Missouri football team seems to have accomplished little on the football field. It finished with only five wins and failed to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
The Tigers did not beat a ranked team and lost six times in the conference by an average of just more than 19 points.
In Missouri's first season in the SEC, interest in the program soared, resulting in sales increases in almost every category. They included:
- An eight percent increase in average attendance
- A 15 percent increase (almost 7,000 tickets) in season tickets
- A 14 percent increase in Memorial Stadium concessions
- A 20 percent increase in merchandise sales
- A 24 percent increase in Tiger Scholarship Fund membership, as well as a 21 percent increase in total donations
In a press conference a few days after his team’s season-ending 59-29 loss to Texas A&M, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel called it a “crummy year.”
Even so, if you classified the season as a failure, in many cases you’d be wrong.
The move from the Big 12 Conference to the SEC last year was not purely a competitive move.
It’s true that, at least in football, the SEC has won the past six national championships and is undoubtedly the most competitive conference in the nation. But the financial benefits, as well as the long-term stability the SEC could provide, were likely more crucial to Missouri’s eventual move. And in that aspect, Missouri has benefited and will continue to benefit this season.
Before the 2012 Missouri football season began, the program sold 46,786 season tickets, an all-time high and almost 7,000 more tickets than were sold before the 2011 season.
Missouri deputy athletics director Doug Gillin said on Thursday that the fan reaction, in terms of tickets sold, was even greater than what the program had anticipated.
“It’s certainly what we hoped it would be. We knew there was going to be buzz, and we knew a goal of 45,000 season tickets was going to be aggressive,” Gillin said. “We sold 46,786, a 15 percent increase. When we put 45,000 out there we thought that was a lofty goal, and we far exceeded that.”
Overall, Missouri enjoyed an average attendance of 67,476 in 2012, an eight percent increase from the 62,095 average in 2011.
Concessions inside Memorial Stadium were also up 14 percent this season, due in part to the increase in attendance as well as the SEC’s “no exit” policy, which prohibited fans from returning to their tailgates at halftime.
The numbers don’t end there. The Tiger Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarship support for Missouri student athletes, received a 21 percent increase in donations and a 24 percent increase in membership over the last year.
A few factors contributed to Missouri’s boost in interest in 2012, Gillin said. The move to the SEC, of course, was near the top of the list.
“In football, certainly the strength of our program contributed — people were excited about what coach Pinkel has been doing here,” Gillin said. “Then you add the SEC on top of it, and it went through the roof.”
It seems that, with the move to the SEC, Missouri’s brand grew in popularity nationwide as well. According to Missouri's Athletics Department, merchandise sales have increased by a whopping 20 percent this year, the third largest jump in the country behind only Southern California and Clemson.
Missouri will also likely receive more conference revenue than it would if it had stayed in the Big 12. The SEC shares all revenue equally, meaning that the profit it makes from television deals and bowl appearances are given in equal shares to each member program.
Missouri, as a first-year member of the SEC, is eligible for those payouts after the basketball season concludes. And with the SEC in the process of renegotiating its television contracts and creating a television network of its own, the money should flow in more and more over the next few years.
The Big 12, up until last year, did not split its revenue equally. Before this season, 57 percent of its revenue was split equally, with the other 43 percent being given proportionately to the schools that made the most television appearances.
That meant, basically, that Texas and Oklahoma reigned supreme, leaving Missouri and other conference members financially inferior.
This season, the Big 12 is distributing nearly all of its revenue equally. The only hang-up is the Longhorn Network, which was born out of a partnership between the University of Texas and ESPN. All revenue from the Longhorn Network remains with Texas, meaning that it brings in more revenue per year than the Big 12’s nine other programs.
The equality, especially financially, that Missouri now enjoys in the SEC was a major selling point for the conference, Gillin said.
“My boss, Mike Alden, said it many times. The fact that everybody is equal in the SEC — always has been, always will be — is very comforting,” Gillin said. “That allows you to be all in together. Historically, that wasn’t always the case.”
Besides the financial gains that came with the move, Missouri also can take comfort in the fact that in a climate where conferences are often hanging on the edge of destruction, teams simply don’t leave the SEC. It hasn’t happened since 1966, when Tulane left the conference to become an independent.
In the last week, Maryland and Rutgers agreed to join the Big Ten, while Louisville left the Big East in favor of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In the midst of all the chaos, Gillin said Missouri is happy to have a certain home.
"It’s certainly better today, watching it unravel, than it was probably a year ago, sitting at Mizzou and watching things shake out," Gillin said. "Now, you’re just kind of watching as a bystander. A year ago, it was a little closer to home.”
Despite the lack of success on the gridiron, Missouri has enjoyed a fruitful inaugural year in the SEC in many ways.
Revenue? Check. Stability? Check. Wins? Not so much.
Pinkel and company hope those come soon. In the meantime, it appears as if Missouri’s financial stability and conference standing are secure.