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UConn athletics posts $47.2 million deficit for 2021

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 had a negative impact on the athletic department’s financials.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The UConn athletic department’s budget deficit continues moving in the wrong direction, as the school posted a $47.2 million deficit for the 2021 fiscal year, which spans from July 2020 to June 2021.

This year’s deficit was covered primarily by institutional support, while the rest was covered by student fees, which accounts for roughly 10.8%. The student fee contribution of 10.8% percent is significantly lower than in past years, compared to roughly 15 percent last year, and the raw total of student fee contribution also decreased from $6.5 million last year to $4.8 million this year.

Although the school had begun taking steps to reduce the deficit — which was $40.4 million in 2018, $42.3 million in 2019 and $43.5 million last year — COVID-19 threw a wrench into things.

Fiscal year 2021 marks UConn’s first full year impacted by the pandemic, and the loss of ticket sales and an entire football season amongst other losses played a large role in the athletic department’s finances, obviously.

Here are some of the major contributors to this year’s deficit and what UConn’s plans are to address them.

Decrease in revenue from FY2020 to FY2021

UConn athletics’ overall revenue fell by nearly $18 million to $58.3 million in 2021, largely due to COVID-19 related impacts. Some of the biggest revenue decreases can be found below.

Ticket sales (down $8.8 million)

With no football season and no fans allowed for men’s and women’s basketball last season, ticket revenue took a big hit as the Huskies lost $8.8 million in ticket revenue in FY2021 alone compared to FY2020. With fans back at games now, albeit with some restrictions, it’s fair to say that number should bounce back for the 2022 fiscal year, especially with the basketball team selling season tickets in record numbers largely in part to UConn’s move to the Big East.

Learfield IMG renegotiation (down $6 million)

While canceling the 2020 football season did save UConn some money, the school also had to renegotiate its deal with Learfield IMG to compensate for it. The normally $12 million deal decreased to around $6 million for FY2021, representing another significant loss of revenue impacted by COVID-19. With the football team back in action in 2021, the Huskies should be able to get their full payout for FY2022.

Conference distribution money (down $1.8 million)

UConn’s move to the Big East from the American was technically a step down in terms of conference payouts — UConn received just $1.2 million in payouts in 2021 compared to $3 million a year prior. In a normal year, UConn would likely surpass that $3 million number through other channels, like increased ticket revenue, significantly less travel, the football team’s TV deal with CBS Sports, and NCAA tournament shares, which did not get paid out due to the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA tournament. So while it may not be a clean-cut $3 million or so from the American, the school can match or exceed that number during a year where COVID-19 is less of a factor — something to keep an eye on in 2022.

Cost reductions from FY2020 to FY2021

Travel ($2.6 million saved)

It’s hard to say how much of this was from the move to the Big East and how much was from sports being canceled or shifting to more local games due to COVID-19. The cancellation of the football season in 2020 saved nearly $1 million in travel costs, and that’s unlikely to ever happen again. But even with all sports back for 2022, there should be some cost savings as the Big East allows for shorter trips than the American. That should start to add for every sport, but in order to get an idea of how much exactly UConn may save, it will probably be more beneficial to throw out this 2021 travel number and compare FY2022 to FY2020 travel, where COVID-19 was still a factor, but less prominent.

Football operating expenses ($5.1 million saved)

This is a pretty big chunk of change here, largely due to the cancellation of the season in 2020, and likely also factors in the travel savings mentioned above. With no season at all, UConn football pulled in just $289,293 in revenue according to CT Insider. Even with how bad the program has been, that will go up immensely in next year’s numbers due to ticket sales and the team’s TV deal being back, a presumably normal Learfield IMG deal, buy games on the schedule and no buy out required for canning Randy Edsall. Football brought in $2.3 million in revenue in FY2020, so it’s probably safe to assume the FY2022 numbers will be in that ballpark.

Scholarship classification ($4.5 million “saved”)

There’s no standard way to classify athletic scholarships from a budget perspective, but UConn decided to consider scholarships as in-state tuition this year as opposed to out-of-state, which they have done for years past. The athletic department doesn't provide funding for these scholarships, but switching to in state tuition likely provides a more accurate expense for the department. With this creative accounting, scholarship expenses went down from $17.4 million in 2020 to $12.9 million, even though nothing changed substantially.

Things to keep an eye on in FY2022

Paying Kevin Ollie

Former head coach Kevin Ollie won his arbitration case against UConn earlier this week, and now the school owes him a lot of money very soon — over $11 million in 10 business days from Thursday, Jan. 20 to be exact. It is unclear at this time where this money will come from and how it will impact UConn athletics’ 2022 deficit at this time. Presumably, the UConn Foundation, the school’s fundraising arm, will be able to provide at least some funding from private donors, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on throughout January.

The UConn Foundation

While the athletic department’s deficit has grown over the years, the UConn Foundation has been going in the opposite direction, especially in athletic fundraising. The Foundation has posted its two best years ever in 2020 and 2021, raising $89.5 million and $93.3 million respectively. In terms of athletics-specific fundraising, the Foundation pulled in $21.4 million in 2021, with the move to the Big East being a factor for the uptick in funds raised. This donation money could be specified for specific teams or purposes, but will help defray costs for some major projects like the new hockey arena (or potentially some of Ollie’s buyout).

Three sports cut

Effective for the 2021-22 academic year, men’s cross country, men’s tennis and and men’s swimming and diving have been eliminated. Women’s rowing was also set to be eliminated, but the team filed a Title IX lawsuit against the school and won. As a result, UConn will support the program through at least the spring of 2026, and has increased the scholarship count for the program from 14 to 20.

As for the three eliminated programs, it will be interesting to see how their removal impacts the deficit for next year and beyond.

Reduced university commitment in 2022

UConn told Hearst’s CT Insider that institutional support will be reduced to $33.6 million for FY2022, a nearly 22 percent decrease from FY2021. While the department has already taken some steps to reduce expenses by cutting three teams, switching scholarship classification to in state and moving to the Big East to reduce travel and possibly increase revenue, UConn has not said where extra money will come from if needed to fund the deficit. UConn’s athletic department was recently one of the athletic departments that relied most heavily on student fees, but the school has fought to change that, and has successfully done so far, reducing raw contribution and percentage of student fee contributions significantly over the past few years. At this time, it’s unclear hither that could change to meet potential deficit shortfalls if it is needed.

The Big East bump

Between the aforementioned increase in fundraising and ticket sales coupled with a reduction in travel, it's likely, but not a definite, that the Huskies’ move to the Big East works out in their favor financially. Even with a decrease in yearly payouts, UConn should be able to make that money back and more through other channels. It may be hard to directly quantify the exact financial impact of the Big East move, but it has already reduced travel for most sports, increased ticket sales and donations, and reignited the fanbase.