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.
I 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…
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…
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.
REVENUE AND SALARIES:
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|
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.