Posted on March 30, 2020
he release of revenue and profit data each year by the U.S. Department of Education marks a key checkpoint for every college football program.
While the annual figures provided don’t always correlate with wins and losses in a given season, they provide a significant indicator of each Pac-12 program’s long-term potential for success.
Unfortunately, with few exceptions, most of the Conference’s schools rank in the bottom-half of the Power 5 nationally.
Between the late start times, the limited distribution of Pac-12 Networks, missing out on the College Football Playoff, and losing coaches to the NFL and other conferences—or some combination thereof—the Conference of Champions has some work to do if it’s going to catch up with the Big Boys of college football.
To provide a sense of how each Pac-12 program stacks up, I’ve compiled the 2018-19 football program revenue and profit totals via Equity in Athletics, ranking them by revenue rather than profits, since each school has the power to control its own expenses.
I’ve also included their national revenue ranking among all 65 Power 5 schools as provided by Penn Live, as well as each team’s respective Conference revenue rankings and win-loss records, together with my own brief analysis.
2018-19 Record: 7-6
National Rank: 60
Revenue: $33.5 million
Profit: $5.7 million
The Bears were the caboose of the Conference of Champions in revenue, but that didn’t prevent Justin Wilcox from leading Cal to its first bowl game in three years. Still, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that a Power 5 team in a major market like the Bay Area couldn’t pull in more revenue.
Located in the backyard of the Conference’s San Francisco headquarters, it’s disappointing at best for California to pull in less money than teams such as Kansas, Duke, and North Carolina—all so called “basketball schools” in significantly smaller markets.
11. Oregon State
2018-19 Record: 2-10
National Rank: 58
Revenue: $35.8 million
Profit: $12.1 million
For having just a two-win season, Oregon State pulled in a respectable amount of revenue. That money stream is a testament to the fan base in Corvallis, and is encouraging for the development of the program. Imagine the affect on revenue if the Beavers were putting up 8+ win seasons.
And while the figure puts them near the bottom of the Power 5, that’s not unexpected considering the state of the program that season. Be that as it may, with continued year-over-year improvement under Jonathan Smith, it’s probable OSU sees significant increases moving forward.
10. Arizona State
2018-19 Record: 7-6
National Rank: 54
Revenue: $39.0 million
Profit: $12.8 million
There’s no other way around it: The numbers for the Sun Devils are paltry. The Phoenix metropolitan is one of the largest in the nation with almost five million people, and teams such as Syracuse, Maryland, and even North Carolina State outperformed ASU.
Worryingly, there are only 11 programs in the Power 5 that pulled in less revenue than the Devils in 2018. That’s an appalling number for a program with millions of fans within a thirty minute drive and a stadium that can hold 75,000 people. Fortunately, there is plenty of room for growth if Herm Edwards continues to put quality teams on the field.
2018-19 Record: 3-9
National Rank: 50
Revenue: $41.3 million
Profit: $5.8 million
In the second-largest metropolitan in the country, UCLA couldn’t crack the top-half of the Power 5, and it’s not even close. Plain and simple, the lack of success on the field was far and away the driving factor in the Bruins’ revenue number. And while it states the obvious, when the team isn’t playing well, people don’t want to show up.
That’s a common theme among all teams in any sport, but the lack of UCLA’s fan dedication in tough times is discouraging. Realistically, a hostile home crowd plays a significant role in games, and the lack thereof could amount to one or two losses that could have been W’s.
2018-19 Record: 5-7
National Rank: 47
Revenue: $43.3 million
Profit: $20.7 million
In Kevin Sumlin’s first year, the Cats pulled in a decent amount of revenue considering their overall record. Several reasons played into that promising figure, but a significant portion of the number can be attributed to Khalil Tate.
Without him, thousands of fans would have chose to stay home instead of sitting in the uncomfortable, cramped metal benches of Arizona Stadium while enduring the horrendous cell-phone reception during games in the Old Pueblo. Unfortunately, much of the Sumlin Era goodwill has dried up, and the Wildcats’ 2019 numbers are likely to drop substantially when they are released.
2018-19 Record: 5-7
National Rank: 46
Revenue: $43.5 million
Of the Pac-12 teams that finished with a losing record, CU’s revenue outperformed each, with the exception of USC. That’s an encouraging sign for the Buffs, who have had limited success since joining the Conference in 2011.
Objectively, it may be a stretch to call them a “sleeping giant” when it comes to football revenue, but it is fair to say the program is nowhere near its ceiling. And while that’s encouraging, the question is how many more years will it take for Colorado to burst through to the proverbial “next level.” After all, the 10-year anniversary of joining the Conference is just one season away.
2018-19 Record: 9-4
National Rank: 44
Revenue: $44.5 million
Profit: $14.0 million
Nearly every home game at Stanford Stadium seems to played in a half-full stadium at best, making their revenue number somewhat shocking. Part of that could be a result of donors buying season tickets and not attending games. On the other hand, their success on the field is a driving force that keeps them in the top half of the Conference, even if it still doesn’t land them in the top-half of the Power 5.
Viewed from another perspective, out of the Pac-12 teams with nine or more wins, Stanford finished last in revenue by a long-shot. In the end, their number is about as good as can be expected, and David Shaw has proven capable of leading a successful program with that level of fan support.
5. Washington State
2018-19 Record: 11-2
National Rank: 43
Revenue: $45.3 million
Profit: $23.2 million
The 33,000 capacity of Martin Stadium, along with the geographical isolation of Pullman, artificially limits Wazzu’s numbers, but they were still good enough to land it in the top-half of the Conference. It’s a testament to their fanbase that their loyalty and commitment may be the strongest in the Pac-12, given their geographical and stadium limitations.
In retrospect, the 2018 season was the best in the Mike Leach Era, and the 11-win campaign won’t ever be forgotten. On a deeper level, the fifth-highest revenue generating program in the Conference still can’t break into the top-half of the Power 5, even in one of its best years ever—a concerning statistic to say the least.
2018-19 Record: 5-7
National Rank: 36
Revenue: $50.0 million
Profit: $17.9 million
As the historic flagship program of the Conference of Champions, the Trojans’ on-field struggles have brought the entire Pac-12 down. It’s no secret that when USC does well, the image of the Conference is substantially higher and revenue grows. As such, when the Trojans struggle, the revenue numbers fall.
Even in a significant down year, the Men of Troy still finished in the top-third of the Conference, doing just enough to crack the top-half of the Power 5. Like it or not, the Pac-12’s success, both on the field and monetarily, generally tracks USC’s win-loss record.
2018-19 Record: 9-5
National Rank: 25
Revenue: $63.2 million
Profit: $33.9 million
On nearly every level, Utah’s decision to join the Pac-12 has been a resounding success. Their revenue streams are near the top of the conference and better than 60% of the Power 5, setting the table for substantial success in the 2020s.
Most of the credit belongs to Kyle Wittingham, who has masterfully built upon the struggles of earlier years, turning the Utes into a powerhouse of the South. With a dedicated fan base and consistent on-field success, the future looks bright in Salt Lake City. Realistically, it’s reasonable to expect revenue to top $70 million when the 2019 numbers come out.
2018-19 Record: 9-4
National Rank: 20
Revenue: $72.1 million
Profit: $33.0 million
Coming as surprise to no one, the Ducks pulled down more revenue than the bottom two Pac-12 teams combined. In a conference full of sub-par revenue generating programs, Oregon is certainly among the elite in college football. And while significantly more millions need to be pulled in to break into the Top 10 ($22 million to be exact), that’s entirely possible with continued success.
Certainly, the lack of exposure due to the Pac-12 Networks distribution problems, late start times, and failure to make the College Football Playoff are factors in the Ducks’ numbers, but all those factors can be overcome by winning. As a counterweight to USC’s decline, the success of the Pac-12’s revenue model rides on Oregon’s continued upswing.
2018-19 Record: 10-4
National Rank: 15
Revenue: $84.0 million
Profit: $43.5 million
When historians look back on the the last decade, the Chris Petersen Era in Seattle may be viewed as one of the most successful in Washington Football’s history. The Dawgs’ breathtaking numbers in 2018 put them among college football’s elite, leading the Conference by a significant margin.
Washington’s success was emblematic of the entire region, a powerhouse both financially and athletically. That inherent advantage makes UW’s drop-off in 2019 all the more shocking. But it also provides hope for a fan base that knows their program’s potential. At the same time, it show’s how lucrative a Rose Bowl berth can be for an athletic department.
Taken as a whole, these numbers highlight the disparity between the top and bottom of the Pac-12, but more importantly, they highlight the current mediocrity of the Conference’s football brand. Eight of its teams linger in the bottom-half of the Power 5, and its top program isn’t even in the Top 10.
Those are highly concerning statistics that severely undermine any leverage the league tries to exert in its media negotiations. If something isn’t changed in the next few seasons, there is a good chance that the Conference of Champions could even be dropped from the proverbial “Power 5,” relegating it to an in-between league that must rely on undefeated seasons to secure a Playoff invitation.
On many levels, at least in principle, that drop-off has already occurred.
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