By Barry Janoff
February 24, 2016: College sports are big not just on campus but in business, marketing, media and the hearts and minds of athletes, alumnus and fans, with short- and long-term impacts on academia, finances, politics and society.
There are more than 190 million fans of college sports, the largest fan base in all sports, including 89 million female fans, with 31 million earning $100,000+ annually and 27 million in the 18-24 age demographic, according to sports marketing and licensing firm IMG College, based in Winston-Salem, NC.
In 2015, there were 20 universities that made $100 million or more from sports, up from 13 in 2014, from TV deals, licensing and rights fees, ticket sales, donations and other venues.
They are led by the University of Oregon ($196 million, including more than $300 million from alumnus Phil Knight, CEO and founder for Nike), Texas ($161 million), Michigan ($157.9 million), Alabama ($153.2 million) and Ohio State ($145.2 million), according to a study overseen by USA Today.
With that as an high-stakes, high-profile backdrop, university athletic directors are facing new challenges, including focusing more than ever on ways to grow and strengthen college sports while enhancing and optimizing the experience for athletes, students, fans and business and marketing partners.
Some 30% of college athletic directors said they had an annual budget of at least $50 million and 65% with football programs had budgets in excess of $60 million, according to a new survey, "Trends in College Athletics," from the Ohio University Center for Sports Administration in Athens and Los Angeles-based AECOM, an $18 billion firm that is a global leader in sports and business venue design and construction.
Among university athletic directors nationwide, 38% said that their schools plan to invest more than $10 million in upgrading current or new facilities over the next year, 29% plan to invest $50 million over the next five years and 50% plan to invest at least $25 million during that five-year period.
Also key among the priorities are enhancing game day experiences for fans and continuing to heighten the importance of academics among student-athletes.
The big hurdle, however, is keeping budgets focused in a changing student-athlete environment.
“The data shows some of the unique challenges collegiate athletic programs face,” Drew Berst, director of business development, sports for AECOM, said in a statement. “Athletic directors are in the precarious position of needing facilities that serve multiple constituencies.
"Our data shows that athletic departments are increasingly investing in student-athlete education, and are seeking to maximize the revenue potential of their venues so they can rely less on university and public funding to support their programs," said Berst.
Concurrently, such fan amenities as food, beverage and premium seating are "increasing in importance."
Among fan amenities, the items of most importance included food and beverage (77%), high-tech connectivity (70%), premium seating (69%), improving the public space in stadiums and arenas (66%) and transportation (53%). The study stressed that "all fan amenities (were) perceived as important and are trending higher" among ADs.
As far as attracting new student-athletes, ADs put among the most important (in order) practice and training facilities, locker rooms, academic space, housing, sports medicine and lounges and cafeterias.
When it comes to the design and/or improvements of facilities, ADs said that the groups that had the biggest impact or influence were the NCAA, their respective conferences, college administrators and university policy makers, student-athletes, alumni and donors, competitor schools and recruits, per the study.
“This investment in growth is associated with a shift toward support for student-athletes,” said Dr. Heather Lawrence, associate professor of sports administration and the AECOM professor of sport business, Ohio University. “We’re seeing increased focus on the value of investment in the student-athlete experience both on the field and academically.”
The survey was conducted in November 2015 among 87 NCAA athletic directors from 25 Division I conferences. It is a follow-up to a "Trends in College Athletics" survey conducted in 2014.
Study: NCAA Athletes See Rise In Food, Facility Budget
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