Jim Sterk Eliah Drinkwitz pose for a photo with a football jersey

Director of Athletics Jim Sterk and head coach Eliah Drinkwitz pose for a photo during the 36-year-old’s introductory press conference Dec. 10. The Tigers’ spring pra{span}c{/span}ti{span}ces have been suspended as of Friday as a result of the {span}c{/span}oronavirus outbreak.{/span}

For the third straight fiscal year, Missouri’s athletic department finished with a budget deficit, according to documents submitted by the school to the NCAA and obtained by the Missourian. In the 2019 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, the deficit was $1.79 million.

That is slightly smaller than last year’s deficit of about $1.81 million, which was notably smaller than the $4.56 million deficit the athletic department reported in 2017. After revenue growth last year, though, the school reported a slightly lower revenue stream in fiscal year 2019.

The department’s revenues were $106.6 million, just shy of the $107.3 million reported in fiscal year 2018. That year was the first time the athletic department reported revenues exceeding $100 million.

The $108.4 million in expenses in the most recent report was slightly down from the $109.1 million the department spent last year as well.

“That’s about what our expectation was,” athletic department chief financial officer Tim Hickman said about the revenue number. “We try to forecast (and) predict ticket sales (and) things like that, so those things hit pretty close to where we thought they were going to hit.”

Overall ticket sales decreased for the second straight year, with both football and men’s basketball each generating around $1 million less in ticket revenue than they did in the previous year. Men’s basketball ticket sales saw a reduction of nearly 16%, after increasing by 70% a year earlier. The big increase in last year’s report reflected the hype around the program for the 2017-18 basketball season, when Missouri hired new head coach Cuonzo Martin and landed No. 1 recruit Michael Porter Jr.

The ongoing 2019-20 basketball season is not reflected in the fiscal year 2019 report.

At $9.57 million in fiscal year 2019, which covers the 2018 season, football ticket sales fell for the fifth straight year; they accounted for $10.56 million in revenue a year earlier. When athletic director Jim Sterk fired Barry Odom in December 2019, he admitted that attendance was one of the reasons he made the change.

“It is a factor, and we want to get attendance up and we want the entire state of Missouri excited about Mizzou football,” Sterk said Dec. 1.

The 2018 season saw a reduced capacity at Memorial Stadium due to the construction of the new south end zone facility. Athletic department officials anticipate slightly higher ticket sale numbers in next year’s report to the NCAA, which will reflect the 2019 season, when the south end zone opened.

“It probably won’t be a lot different,” Hickman said about the football ticket numbers, “but it will be a little bit up.”

Ticket sales will go a long way toward determining whether Missouri eventually can turn a profit. The $16.2 million the athletic department made from ticket sales across all sports in the 2019 report makes up over 15% of its total revenue. According to Sterk at his Dec. 1 press conference, in order to get ticket sales back to where they were in 2014 — the last year a decline in ticket sales wasn’t reported — Missouri needs between $5 and $6 million more in ticket sales. Those, along with donor contributions, are what the athletic department is seeking to increase.

Contributions accounted for almost a quarter of the athletic department’s total revenue in the most recent report, adding nearly $1 million more from donors than it did in 2018. Donor contributions have grown consistently since Sterk took over in 2016. The fiscal year 2017 report to the NCAA accounted for $22.35 million in contributions. That number was $26.5 million in 2019. Deputy athletic director Nick Joos highlighted success of the school’s “1839” fundraising campaign, and signaled that expectations for donor contributions are positive going forward.

“I think there is a renewed sense of excitement around football,” Joos said, referring to the impact on donors. “There is a lot to be optimistic about.”

Missouri’s most lucrative revenue stream is the school’s media rights, which generated $38.2 million in 2019, almost $200,000 more than in 2018.

Even with contributions and media rights, the department’s top two revenue generators, trending in the right direction, Missouri still faces a huge challenge in its quest for profit. Next year, Missouri will lose out on its annual Southeastern Conference revenue share because of the sanctions levied against the football, baseball and softball teams by the NCAA. Since Missouri was handed a bowl ban during the recently-completed season, it is not eligible to receive its share of the SEC’s bowl distributions in the next fiscal year.

Missouri received over $10 million from conference distributions in 2019, up from $9.68 million in 2018. The exact amount the school will miss out on in fiscal year 2020 isn’t yet known, but it is worth noting that the SEC put three teams in New Year’s Six Bowls , with one in the College Football Playoff. If a team makes the playoff, the conference receives $6 million that is then distributed among the member schools. New Year’s Six Bowls come with higher payouts as well, so it is possible that Missouri will lose more next year than it would have if the bowl ban had been in effect in previous years.

The athletic department spent $20.4 million on coaches’ salaries in fiscal year 2019, up from $19.7 million in 2018. Before Odom was fired in December 2019, he signed a contract extension that gave him a $600,000 raise, which was reflected in the 2019 report. Half of Odom’s 2019 salary will be reflected in the 2020 report, since the fiscal year ends halfway through the calendar year. Half of new head football coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s $4 million salary, which is nearly $1 million higher than Odom’s salary was, will be reflected in next year’s report as well, meaning the amount of money paid to coaches will likely be higher than it was in 2019.

Even with a potential increase in salary expenses and the loss of the bowl distribution, the goal of the athletic department is still to turn a profit going forward, as it is every year, according to Hickman. But the path to profit isn’t exactly clear.

“Nobody has a crystal ball, unfortunately,” Hickman said. “I wish we did. We could figure it out ahead of time and always be in the black.”

The NCAA requires its member schools to report operating revenues and expenses every year. The deadline for filing those reports this year was Jan. 15.

Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.

  • Liam Quinn is covering Missouri football. He is a senior from New Jersey studying magazine journalism.

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