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State of the Program | The Ma$$ Exodu$

This article takes a look at Virginia Tech’s dramatic drop in basketball attendance and how it will mean an estimated $1 million less in basketball revenue this year compared to last year.

We all know what the Virginia Tech Athletic Director is all about — staying in the black and out of the red.  Whether this is Jim “Blue Light Special” Weaver’s own agenda, or it has been dictated to him from above, it has clearly been his primary focus.

KmartI know what Weaver is thinking — by hiring bargain basement coaches, he is saving the program, and athletic department, money.  But what Weaver seems to miss is that he’s actually costing Tech money by hiring coaches that: a) don’t create excitement around the program, which sells tickets (How many people bought season tickets for this year because James Johnson was the head coach?); and b) don’t have a proven history of winning, which after all, is what will ultimately get fannies in the seats (just look at miami — after 8-1/2 years of horrible attendance numbers they are suddenly selling out every game).


Let’s look at some of the attendance numbers…


A packed Cassell was the norm a few years ago

A packed Cassell was the norm a few years ago

400.  In Tech’s first six seasons in the ACC, they sold all but 400 tickets to their 48 ACC home games, an average of just eight unfilled seats per game in the 9,847 seat Cassell Coliseum.  And three of those six seasons were completely sold out for all eight home ACC games.

6,064.  In the previous two seasons, Greenberg’s last two at VT, this is the total number of unsold seats for the 16 ACC home games.  That may sound like a lot, but that still means Tech was averaging 9,468 fans per ACC home game, or 96% of capacity.  Not too shabby.

While those great attendance numbers partially had to do with the fact the Hokies were now in the ACC and playing local rivals like uva and maryland and powers like duke and unc, you can’t just attribute it to that.  The biggest factor was winning.  That’s what got people to put down $400+ dollars for season tickets year after year, instead of just buying single game tickets for the ‘big’ games and skipping out of conference contests and the lesser ACC games, like bc or clemson.

By comparison, fellow ACC newcomer miami sold just 80% of their ACC game tickets their first year in the league.  That steadily dropped each year for a program that had never had a winning ACC record until this year.  Last season, miami sold just 62% of their ACC tickets.  boston college sold 99% of their ACC tickets their first year in the league, but that fell to 80% by their third season and they sold just 59% of their ACC tickets last season.  The drop fell as the eagles went from playing in the ACC Tourney title game their first year, to a perpetual cellar-dwellar.  And that brings us to…


Plenty of good seats still available

Plenty of good seats still available

6,100.  That number represents the average attendance at Tech’s six ACC home games so far this year (2nd lowest in the ACC ahead of just bc), just 62% of capacity and means more than 22,000 seats haven’t been sold in the six ACC games in the Cassell (even the uva game only drew 7,200 fans).  At this pace, Tech will see just under 55,000 fans combined attend their nine ACC home games.  The previous low was just under 75,000 fans (that was last season), and that was with one less ACC home game.  It also means over 33,000 tickets went unsold to the ACC games this year.

At the bottom of this article I’ve included the average attendance per game and per ACC game for each season since Tech joined the ACC.


Now let’s look at dollars and cents…

Here are some of the key numbers for Virginia Tech for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, according to THIS ARTICLE.

  • Total Revenue: $64.8 million (8th in the ACC)
  • Profits for the entire Athletic Department: $3.75 million (2nd in the ACC)
  • Men’s Basketball Revenue: $11.1 million (5th in the ACC).  This includes tickets, TV revenue, donations, and apparel sales among other things.
  • Greenberg’s buyout was $1.2 million

In 2010-11, Tech basketball was the 94th most profitable program when compared to all college football and basketball teams with a profit of more than $3 million according to THIS DATA (football was #26 with a profit of almost $15 million).  Tech had a $4.3 million profit overall in the athletic department in 2010-11.

In 2009-10, Tech had $9.2 million in basketball revenue and a profit of $4.5 million in hoops.

$245k/$680k.  That’s JJ’s base and average salary per season over five seasons.  That $680,000 salary represents the lowest annual salary for an ACC head basketball coach.

$475k.  That’s what Tech now pays their assistant coaches cumulatively per year, the same as clemson, and also right near the bottom of the ACC.  Is that what we are aspiring to be in basketball?  clemson?  Granted, they have been to the NCAA Tournament four of the last five seasons, but hadn’t gone the previous 10 seasons (Tech has made the Big Dance just once in 16 seasons including this year, and just once in 13 seasons in a BCS conference).  So maybe clemson is a step up.

$1 Million Dollars.  Obviously not all of those 33,000 unused ACC tickets from this year that I detailed above are ‘tickets for sale’.  Some are student tickets.  So just for the heck of it, let’s call it 25,000 unsold tickets to account for those unused student tickets.  At $35 per ticket, that’s $875,000 lost in potential ticket revenue.  Add in lost concession sales from all fans and that’s another $165,000 lost (that’s based on $5 spent on concessions per fan, which is at the low end of the spectrum based on a study I read but probably realistic for ‘Blacksburg’).  That adds up to an estimated $1.04 million in revenue lost during this ACC season in ticket and concession sales compared to if the games were sold out.

Now add in the fact Tech was drawing just 6,380 fans for their out of conference games, and that’s almost 28,000 more unused tickets.  Let’s subtract 8,000 student tickets from that number (although the students were showing up early in the year) to give us 20,000 more unsold tickets.  At $20 a pop on average for out of conference games, that’s another $400,000 in lost ticket revenue, plus let’s say another $100,000 in concessions, and that’s another $500k lost compared to if those games were sellouts.  That puts us at more than $1.5 million in lost ticket and concession revenue this year from when we were selling out, and about $1 million less than just last year when VT sold 95% of their tickets.

Considering Tech has been turning a significant profit of almost $4 million as a basketball program and an athletic department, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to pay significantly more for your head coach and assistants, does it?

By comparison, Brad Stevens at butler makes $1.2 million.  Shaka Smart, whom Tech interviewed, is making just under $1.3 million this season at vcu, or about double what JJ is (these are two coaches in mid-major conferences that are part of programs that I am quite sure do not have a $4 million profit per year).  I’m not saying Shaka would have taken this job for $1.3 million (he was initially asking for probably close to double that), but Tech could have gotten an experienced winner like a Mark Gottfried off the scrap heap (he’s at nc state) or an up-and-comer with a proven track record.  maryland is paying Mark Turgeon $1.9 million.  Turgeon took wichita state to the Sweet 16 and then won 24+ games and make the Tourney in all four seasons at texas a&m (a school very similar to Tech).  While that kind of money annually is probably too much for Tech given their much smaller arena (The Communist Center seats almost 18k), the mystique of the ACC and around $1.3 million would be a big draw to a coach in a lesser conference.  A name coach would have sold some season tickets on their own by getting people excited about the program and out of anticipation of producing a winning team.  While the results might be similar on the court for this season, at least you would have a better feeling that things would get turned around in the near future with better recruiting and because they have a track record of winning.

Instead, we are now wondering if we aren’t watching ricky stokes, Part 2.  And if Tech has to fire JJ before the end of his contract, you are now talking about another buyout, which would probably be over $1 million given that Greenberg’s was $1.2 million and JJ currently has a five year contract.  Again, you get what you pay for, and right now we are piling up losses and getting just 5,600 to 6,000 fans per game.

This isn’t just a Weaver thing in basketball either.  My sources tell me Weaver offered Pep Hamilton about $200,000 less than he was offered to stay at stanford.  Clearly that wasn’t going to lure him.  Conversely, look at clemson, who hadn’t had a big win in football in 20 years until they went out and got Chad Morris as their Offensive Coordinator before the 2011-12 season and made him the highest paid assistant coach in college sports.  Two years later they have an ACC title and won the Peach Bowl over lsu this past season.  Tech, on the other hand, ends up hiring an OC and OL Coach and then prorates their salaries for the next few years based on their buyouts they are getting from their former employer, auburn.

This is the ACC, it isn’t the Atlantic-10, Tech’s conference when Weaver took over in 1997.  Yet Weaver continues to go the nickel-and-dime route in terms of spending on coaches.  And while football, at least for now, is still selling out, the basketball program is seeing dramatic drops in attendance.  The result is diminishing revenue and a shrinking profit.  I’ll say it one more time — you get what you pay for, and right now, Hokie fans are getting a raw deal and expressing their displeasure by no longer blindly supporting the program and going to games.

Maybe once these profits start to dry up someone will come to their senses and realize that to be competitive in this league and in the NCAA of today you have to spend.  That gets you the best coaches who are ready to handle the rigors of the ACC, lure top talent to campus, and coach them up to be winners, instead of hiring an unproven commodity that is learning on the job and hoping they pan out. If JJ can’t turn it around and we have to go in a new direction in a few years, we need to get a proven guy. If Weaver keeps refusing to do this (and spend some serious $$$), then we need someone who will.  And I think given our $4 million profit in basketball, we can afford to do it.

The formula is simple — the anticipation of winning sells season tickets, and then actual wins in season are what sells a place out, as miami is proving this year.  We need someone that produces wins, and the people will follow.  That can get us back to the days of a packed Cassell and the ensuing revenue.


Season Home Games Avg Attendance Avg Att Per ACC Home Game
2012-13 14 6,260 6,100
2011-12 18 8,395 9,362
2010-11 16 8,932 9,574
2009-10 19 9,272 9,844
2008-09 16 9,414 9,847
2007-08 17 9,815 9,847
2006-07 15 9,822 9,800
2005-06 17 9,763 9,846
2004-05 16 9,406 9,847

Note that in seasons where Tech played in the NIT, those home games did count and often were not close to sellouts, thus pulling down the overall averages.  Also note that this season is the first with nine ACC home games.

This post was written by:

- who has written 1284 posts on Tech Hoops.

Niemo is a member of the VT Class of '98. While not a professional journalist by any stretch, Niemo analyzes and breaks down every minute of Hokie hoop action. He also researches topics of interest such as Hokie recruits, program revenue, statistical data on the team, previews VT opponents, and discusses his favorite bourbons/Scotches. In addition to his passion for Hokie hoops, Niemo has attended 126 straight VT football home games (every game since '94), eclipsing the 100 mark in September of '09 and recently attended his 20th consecutive VT/uva game. During the final home basketball game of his senior year, he was brought onto the court and was awarded 2 passes to the Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament in Philly during a timeout for being a "Super Fan" during his time at VT. The Hokie Bird made the award on behalf of Athletic Director Jim Weaver. Niemo was known to be in the front row of every home game with his familiar red afro hairdo.

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21 Responses to “State of the Program | The Ma$$ Exodu$”

  1. 69Hokie says:

    You have to remember, this is same Weaver that was at one time on the verge of letting Beamer and his staff move to UNC. I’m not sure if he changed his mind, or did some big donors, the administration, or both, change it for him. If my memory serves me right, the biggest part of the fight was compensation for the assistants.

    A lot of people on this and other blogs are convinced that we will continue to go down this destructive road as long as Weaver is the AD. I understand the need to run a profitable program, but it shouldn’t mean destroying our basketball programs. What other sports are next? Isn’t Weaver supposed to retire next year, or is it 2015?

    Great article! Thanks

  2. Drew says:

    Thank you for posting this. I had been thinking the same thing for awhile now but didn’t know where to look to support my argument. Men’s BB is a money producer around the country but in order to do so, you have to spend money to make it. Translation: You can’t pinch pennies to hire guys like JJ. That’s why I was so disappointed in our coaching search. You will literally destroy a program trying to save a penny.

  3. Cope says:

    Honestly, we’re glad Doe left. His family wasn’t worth the hassle. From David Teel: “Now I believe Finney-Smith would have bailed regardless. His high-maintenance family was displeased with his freshman season…”

    • Niemo says:

      Cope – agree that DooDoo was gone either way. I don’t know if he was sold on something we didn’t deliver during recruiting or his family/’team’ is a bunch of malcontents. I tend to think based on the behavior I saw from his family, namily his mother, at games last year that it is the latter. While he was a great talent and did get better as the year went on, and likely would have been even better this year, you do have to wonder if they were worth the hassle.

  4. Dave Perks says:

    I love the fact that “unproven” seems to equate to “will never prove a thing”. Shaka Smart’s salary before his current contract was around $325K. No Johnson hadn’t won a single game as a head coach before being hired, but he had won over a ton of living rooms (anybody bothering to check the quality of the recruits coming in for next season?) In the world of college coaching, that seems to me to be an incredibly valuable way to prove something.

    Do I wish we had stayed on the path we set at the beginning of the season? Of course! But JJ had a pretty crappy hand dealt to him. Blame it on Weaver all you want. His timing and his tact could have been much better given the circumstances. But don’t blame it on JJ yet.

    Give him a full recruiting cycle and off season without a two-week detour to South Carolina. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think with quality players and actual depth on the bench next season, we’ll all be seeing things a little differently this time next year. And the year after that. And so on.

    • Niemo says:

      Dave – I agree with you and my blame is on Weaver, not JJ. See my other comments – I hope he does turn it around. But to answer your question, our recruiting class for this year is NOT ACC-caliber, so that’s strike 1 against him on that front. I’m guessing you thought we had a good class coming in, but I’d say on paper it is below par for this league and will not make us competitive with the upper half, and is worse than most of SG’s classes.. I could be wrong, but that’s my impression.

    • Vindictive_Pat says:

      I’m with you, Perks. I really like the upside of next year’s class (including transfer Adam Smith) and they seem truly excited to play at VT and play for JJ. I do hope that both Robert Brown and Jarell Eddie can come out of their slumps before the end of this season though. Those two guys are going to be crucial to VT’s success next season and I’d love to see them show some mental toughness this year while there’s still time to turn themselves around.

  5. hooleyhoopty says:

    Thank you for exploring this. By all accounts JJ is a great person who is well liked by his players but I must admit I was disappointed by the hire. I was and remain a Greenberg guy but recognize that something had to be done when all the assistants flew the coup. And while Greenberg never got us over the hump he at least brought us to relevance and helped make the program and the job attractive for a proven mid-major coach. Weaver had a golden opportunity to bring in someone like that but instead went to his playbook of going for the cheapest most convenient hire. I hope JJ can right the ship but it looks like he’ll have an uphill battle and there is great potential that all the good that Greenberg accomplished could be undone. JJ might become a great coach someday, hopefully with us, but let’s face it, right now we have a coach who has never been the head coach of any team on any level. That scares me. Next year without Green could be ugly, both with our record and with our attendance. Currently, watching Green is worth the price of admission. With him gone I don’t see a player on our current roster that would even start for a team in the upper half of the ACC…….and don’t forget we have Syracuse and Pitt coming in next year with Louisville and Notre Dame shortly to follow. This league is only going to get tougher.

    • Niemo says:

      Hooleyhoopty – thanks for your perspective, your thoughts were spot on. And I think it is important to say that we all like JJ and we all hope he does well. Heck, you think I like writing about a 2-8 team? Hell no. As much as the bubble-bursting days stunk, they were way better than this. But liking JJ and thinking he was a good hire (or even not a bad hire) are two different things. JJ could turn things around in a year or two and become great, but it still wouldn’t change the fact that I believe hiring someone with no experience was just plain dumb by Weaver and after what stokes did to us, was unforgiveable. That’s where my frustration is directed, not at JJ. I know he’s trying his best, but learning on the job is tough anywhere, especially in the ACC. Even as a high school baseball coach I learned so much from my first job to the next, and I didn’t even have 1% of the responsibilities and pressure JJ does.

  6. RP says:

    Great article. The current TV contract doesn’t help things. Playing Maryland at 9 pm on a Thursday night makes it much less appealing for a casual fan like myself to even bother driving up from Roanoke. (I often attend mid-week 7 pm games, but 9:00 for a game broadcast on WB5 (not even the local CBS affiliate, let alone ESPN) is not worth it.) They’ve sold out to the highest bidder, and that’s not the fan.

  7. Vindictive_Pat says:

    It seems to me to be as simple as winning and losing. The numbers are never there during football season, well all know that, but if if the team had been winning in late December and early January, the seats would be filled. The fact that they were losing meant low attendance for our ACC slate which never increased because the team kept losing in ACC play. I don’t put much stock into coach’s salaries… maybe Weaver was trying to save a penny, maybe he thought JJ was an excellent candidate considering who was really interested in the job… I don’t know which. I do know that JJ has 7 scholarship players, one or two of whom are either sick or injured every game. It’s tough to win with a roster like that, and it’s tough to pack the seats when your team can’t win.

    • Cope says:

      I’m pretty sure JJ has eight scholarship players, though I could be mistaken. But, I thought the following guys were on scholarship: Green, van Zegeren, Eddie, Raines, Barksdale, Rankin, Wood, and Brown.

    • Niemo says:

      I agree, Pat, it is all about the W’s. I’d have rather we gambled on a coach with several head coaching W’s instead of 0. As you said, maybe this season was a lost cause no matter what. Or maybe a bigger name could have gotten Harrell to stay (I think DooDoo was gone no matter what) and at least would be able to recruit better players for the future and get more out of them. I don’t have a lot of confidence in this 2013 recruiting class, to be honest. I don’t think it is ACC-caliber and is well below Seth’s classes.

  8. Reston Hokie2 says:

    Gentlemen …

    Yes, winning is everything but the sky is not falling, the sky is not falling … it’s not JJ’s coaching or the team’s defense. It’s the shooting,go look at the stats for each game lost and if they shot even 40% from the field, 30% from 3 pt range, and made 75% of their FT they win most of those games.

    It’s a simple game, you throw the ball, you catch the ball, you shoot the ball through the hoop …

    but, author is right, there is the potential for $1M+ to be left on the table. It’s not about the coach.

    • Drew says:

      It’s a coaching failure when you’re shooting guard is shooting in the teens from 3 point range (and wasn’t good last year) and you never bother to adjust but instead to allow him to keep jacking up bricks. It’s a coaching failure when your team continues to undercut screens on shooters leaving wide open 3s every game and there is no adjustment. It is a coaching failure when you double down on post players that aren’t threats to warrant double teams leading to wide open kick outs. It’s not a simple game. When its executed correctly, it looks simple but there is way more going on. That’s why JJ is in a bad spot. He had zero experience at any level as a head coach. To cut your teeth at the ACC level is a damn near impossible task.

    • Niemo says:

      It was the defense’s fault when they were giving up 90+ per game for several games in a row. And opponents have continued to shoot much better against us than normal (unc not withstanding), so that’s on the defense. They are holding teams to fewer points recently, and that’s good (as I had pointed out in my breakdowns before gt), but then let gt, the worst shooting team in the league, torch us for the first half. So there are issues there.

      As for me nit-picking, isn’t that the point of analysis? Or should I dummy it down to “they out-scored us”? I nit-pick the good, too, such as when Eddie was shooting better a few weeks ago. There just hasn’t been much good to talk about lately.

      And to your no one knows what went into the coaching selection, you are wrong. Shocker – I have insiders. And have you seen JW’s track record? Doesn’t take someone as smart as you to see he buys on the cheap. Why else would we be the only school in the ACC with a head coach with no coaching experience?

  9. HDSHokie says:

    I think its too early to tell if JJ will be a successful coach. The loss of DFS & M Harrell left us short & some of the other guys on scholarship aren’t near top tier ACC players. Eddie & Brown have regressed from early in season for what ever reasons I don’t know. After JJ’s 3rd season we should have a better idea of his potential & if its like this year & what I expect next year w/Green gone, then it should be time to look elsewhere. Timing was bad for hiring & recruiting because of the timing of Greenberg’s firing. Harrell has shown more playing time & production for a top10 team than has Wood for us.

  10. Brian Quinn says:

    I feel its only going to get worse. Only EG is ACC caliber on the current roster. Who’s our go to guy next year? I don’t know anything about the kids coming in, so maybe I’m wrong . Unfortunately for JJ, they have to be good or he’ll be done after 3 yrs.


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