Sunday, April 29, 2018

KU basketball saves athletic department budget, allows leaders to dream of ‘blue sky potential’

Allen Fieldhouse is shown in this Journal-World file photo.

Allen Fieldhouse is shown in this Journal-World file photo.


Despite popular opinion, KU has a good football program. It just happens to play basketball.

No, you haven’t missed any gridiron victories. Rather, that’s just a way to note that KU’s nationally renowned basketball program performs financially like a good football program.

Knowing that fact is important to understanding how Kansas Athletics is able to remain financially competitive in the world of big-time college athletics. But perhaps more importantly, recognizing KU basketball’s financial prowess is key to understanding why KU leaders often think the sky is the limit for KU's athletic department.

Numbers game

Men's basketball ticket sales 2017

Kansas: $15.1 million

Kansas State: $3.01 million

Missouri: $3.03 million

Football ticket sales 2017

Kansas: $3.4 million

Kansas State: $11.8 million

Missouri: $11 million

All sports ticket sales 2017

Kansas: $18.9 million

Kansas State: $15.2 million

Missouri: $17.9 million

In 2017, the KU men’s basketball team generated $15.1 million in ticket sales, according to reports filed with the NCAA. That’s more than the $11.8 million that K-State’s football program generated in the same year. It also is more than the $11 million that Missouri’s football team produced in the vaunted SEC.

Thus far, KU’s woes on the football field haven’t put the athletic department at a financial disadvantage. KU football in 2017 generated only $3.4 million in ticket sales — or about $8.4 million less than K-State’s football program. But K-State’s basketball program only generated $3 million in ticket sales. Add it all up — including women’s programs and the school’s smaller programs — and KU had a total of $18.9 million in ticket sales. K-State had $15.2 million in total ticket sales. Mizzou also trailed KU in total ticket sales, with $17.9 million.

KU basketball can make up for a lot.

It also can cause athletic directors to dream of what could be. It is hard to build a basketball program that ever sells $15 million in tickets. But KU has one. If it can now build just a good football program, it could have a truly elite revenue-generating athletic department. Just a good, not elite, football program because, remember, K-State has only won two conference championships in 14 years, and you would need an abacus to calculate the last time Mizzou won a conference championship in football.

Viewed that way, KU is one of the few athletic departments positioned to make a moonshot. Sure, it still may not rival the ranks of Texas and Ohio State, but KU definitely would be living in an upscale neighborhood. KU athletic department leaders do view the possibilities as great.

“We are in a unique position,” KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger said. “What you have just described is incredible blue sky potential. It is exciting to think about.”

But, to state the obvious, a total of three football wins in the last three seasons doesn’t send anything into the blue sky stratosphere — other than the blood pressure of fans. Zenger, though, thinks he has the right formula in place. While he vowed not to make win-loss projections, he said the program has the key ingredient in place for success.

“You have to have continued commitment,” Zenger said. “You can’t stop and start, stop and start. Probably the thing we have right now more than ever is we have a solid commitment from central administration, athletic administration, endowment association, alumni association, all with locked arms to support that program.

“Now you need coaches and student athletes to give their best every day, work hard, and take a blue-collar approach.”

There you go: Blue collar to blue sky.

In September 2017, when KU announced plans to build $350 million in new facilities, primarily for football, it marked the beginning of one of the biggest financial bets the program has ever made. The Journal-World decided to study the financial books, talk to leaders and give readers a better understanding of the money game that is constantly a part of big-time college athletics. These are the resulting stories from spring 2018.

April 29 — A look at the finances of Kansas Athletics: Rising revenues, soaring costs, big bets

April 29 — KU basketball saves athletic department budget, allows leaders to dream of ‘blue sky potential’

May 6 — KU football ticket sales down about $6 million per year; some question whether $300 million in new facilities will help

May 13 — Administrative salaries jumped by 42 percent in a single year at Kansas Athletics; KU salaries top K-State’s

May 13 — How much does KU spend on athletics? More than the city spends on police, fire and roads, but returns are big too

May 20 — Girod: Athletics important to KU, but there is a “disconnect” too

May 20 — Should KU be worried about getting dumped from a Power 5 Conference? The financial stakes are huge

May 22 — Rock Chalk Park started as $39 million deal for KU; now it may top $100 million after KU allowed lease to be changed


Joe Norgay 3 years, 5 months ago

Well then Sheahon, maybe you shouldn’t have hired Charlie Weis and David Beaty. Because of your choices, we have lost millions in potential football revenue and your theory on not starting and stopping is awfully convenient re: your job security.

Maybe if you decide to stick with a coach, don’t pick one that’s never had any head coaching experience, has to learn on the job, and in year 4 seems to have learned nothing from his previous 3.


Sam Crow 3 years, 5 months ago

You continue to display to the public your ignorance of college football.

For example your most recent comment here about hiring someone with head coaching experience. Five of the last six KU coaches had head coaching experience. Weiss (Notre Dame), Gill (Buffalo), Allen (Northern Iowa), Mason (Kent State), Gottfried (Murray State and Cincinnati). All had losing records.

Mangino had no head coaching experience yet is the only KU coach since 1953 to have a winning record.

There are six coaches currently in the Big 12 that were hired with no head coaching experience. Snyder(210-110), Gundy(114-53), Riley/Stoops (12-2), Patterson (100-40), Holgersen (53-37), Kingsbury.

Quit embarrassing yourself.

Chris Condren 3 years, 5 months ago

Zenger has done such a crappy job with KU Football that the program has to look up to see down. Under his sad leadership the fans have endured a decade of despair and the nightmare continues. It is pitiful that incompetence is so well rewarded in the KUAD.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 5 months ago

And it's for that reason that a few of us have changed our football loyalty to other teams. On Iowa!

**ON IOWA!**

**ON IOWA!** by Bryce Landon

Brett McCabe 3 years, 5 months ago

I've signed up to support the Service Academies. My dad was a navy vet, my father-in-law retired as a captain with 34 years of service with the navy so why am I leaning towards Army. I'm a bad son! I've got a few months to figure it out, but I'll be definitely following all three teams this year.

Stunningly, none of them need $350-million stadiums to whip KU. And none of their recruits are headed to the NFL.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 5 months ago

Thumbs down Bryce. I'm seriously considering removing my thumbs up on your Billy Preston post.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 5 months ago

Go ahead and do whatever you think you have to do. I was never living for your approval anyway.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 5 months ago

Are you serious? Your either all-in or not at all. KU football isn't the highlight of my sporting year but I'll ALWAYS be a Jayhawk!

It will make the winning that much sweeter.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 5 months ago

I am a Hawkeye for football and a Jayhawk for basketball. You will not define my fandom for me, Marius. I play by my own set of rules.

Brian Babcock 3 years, 5 months ago

Maybe if Kansas football made up their own set of rules? I smell success.

[''] 3 years, 5 months ago

I would bet that KU is the only FBS school, not just P5, but ALL 130 FBS schools, where its basketball ticket revenue out grosses its football ticket sales. Pathetic.

Brett McCabe 3 years, 5 months ago

I encourage everyone to look at those numbers again. KU football ticket sales are 23% of basketball ticket sales. Yes, there are more home basketball games, but the arena is less than one-third the size of the stadium and generates 5-times the ticket revenue. Astonishing.

Sam Crow 3 years, 5 months ago

But compare the ticket prices, not just the seats.

I paid from from $70 a ticket for KU vs Fort Hays and Pittsburg State up to $125 for Texas. My season football tickets on the 40 yard line didn't even approach those prices.

John Strayer 3 years, 5 months ago

I totally agree with this. I think KU has about reached the maximum of total revenue they can squeeze from KU B-Ball. Last year I ponied up $60 each to watch KU beat Oakland. 2 or 3 years ago I would have paid $35 for those same GA tickets. How much more can you squeeze out of these tickets for "no-name" opponents?

KU desperately needs to add more $millions from football to sustain the health of the total athletic department.

Brett McCabe 3 years, 5 months ago

On the positive side, at $3.4 million per year in ticket sales, it will only take 100 years of football ticket sales to cover the cost of the new football facilities. Of course, that's assuming ticket sales are 100% profit. So, make that 200 years.

Richard Quinlan 3 years, 5 months ago

Zenger has , is , and will continue to squander this opportunity. Fire his sorry $$%#@# now !

Henry Joseph Hofmeister 3 years, 5 months ago

now take away what we've paid out on coaches fired and we're about even right? for all people try to sh1t on our current coach, fact is he's better than we've had in awhile and kids don't stick around when the school changes coaches every couple years. fans be damned, it's a good idea to build from nothing.

Lawrence McGlinn 3 years, 5 months ago

Given the incompetence of most KU sports programs (football is only the most obvious example), and the lack of accountability on wins and losses, how do we know the $$ the basketball team is generating is not being squandered? I would hope there is a careful auditing of the budget on an on-going basis. Obviously, a lot of money has been spent on fired coaches. An athletic department that puts the football team we have seen on the field has likely got some deep structural problems that could be wasting the resources generated by an extraordinary b-ball program.

Brian Skelly 3 years, 5 months ago

 I've said this frequently,  and it certainly was true during the "bowl" years of Mangino.    If KUs football program is even just passable,  the revenues of this athletic department are through the roof.    And as these numbers show,  it'd be like having two football teams worth of revenue.
The fact it isn't speaks to how broken our AD is.    How is it Zenger is still around?

Ray Winger 3 years, 5 months ago

Thank you , Mr. Lawhorn, I think this article was very insightful. I particularly believe Dr. Zenger's quote about locked arms is appropriate.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 5 months ago

Do you want Zenger fired for botching that last two football hires or do you want him fired because you believe he is a bad AD? In spite of the former there is an argument for him to remain at KU in his current capacity. He’s done a lot in the facilities department and in the area of academics. When he took over the job our athletic department was under investigation by the FBI and our AD was fined by the state Ethics Commission. He should be given some credit for steering us out of those waters.

Mark Kostner 3 years, 5 months ago

Well I'm not ready to throw Sheahon Zenger under the bus for the dysfunctional football program yet but he has his work cut out for him with his Raise The Chant campaign. If he can build the practice facility, football scholarship hall, a stadium that looks like a 21st century stadium and not a crumbling monument to failure that actually is painted in school colors, scholarships, anything else that attract good players, and finally get the football program to an acceptable level, he'll be a success. I know, it's a mouth full and a tall order. I googled the worst football teams of all time and luckily the Jayhawks weren't there although the Iowa State Cyclones and even the K-State Wildcats under Bill Snyder were. But KU Football is still so bad that it's worse than WSU when they pulled the plug on the sport and until Raise The Chant and David Booth's generosity were announced I thought KU should have considered putting the program out of its misery. Now I hope they succeed. It always seemed like schools could either be good in football or basketball but not both. I'd be happy if KU football was competent and not embarrassing. and look at the stadium as I go down 11th!

[''] 3 years, 5 months ago

KU is proud to be doing well in a sport that is basically capped at $25 mil (playing checkers) while Texas & Alabama are playing chess at the #1 revenue sport where revenue is upwards of $130 million. Congrats KU.

Andy Godwin 3 years, 5 months ago

What was not discussed is whether certain KU basketball fans will continue to cave into the rising costs of Williams Fund "donations" to have the privilege of buying prime seats, while the ticket prices continues to increase at a rapid rate. The administration has continually taken the best seats away from students (this is college athletics - so I believe the student should not be pushed into the rafters) so they can sell to alumni willing to donate large sums and pay in some cases hundreds of dollars per ticket. The idea of "Blue Sky Potential" can only happen if KU football rights itself, because the prices of basketball tickets has to peek (at least I hope). Love the Allen Fieldhouse experience, but only for so much.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.