College Football Revenue: Running the Numbers

Earning Power, Living & Spending
on September 24, 2014


It’s no secret that big-time college football produces big-time money for the top programs in the country. It’s probably no secret who those teams are either—if you follow college football, you could probably name a few teams at the top, such as Texas, Alabama and Notre Dame.

Indeed, there are no surprises in the Top 10 for 2012-2013, the most recent reporting period. It’s all storied programs with long histories, national champions who are perennial favorites on the field.


Institution Name Total Revenue Total Expenses Net Revenue
1 University of Texas $109,400,688 $27,675,403 $81,725,285
2 University of Michigan $81,475,191 $23,061,374 $58,413,817
3 University of Georgia $77,594,300 $26,325,257 $51,269,043
4 University of Florida $74,820,287 $25,704,553 $49,115,734
5 Louisiana State University $74,275,838 $25,822,306 $48,453,532
6 University of Alabama $88,660,439 $41,558,058 $47,102,381
7 University of Notre Dame $78,349,132 $32,373,258 $45,975,874
8 University of Oklahoma $69,647,986 $24,533,905 $45,114,081
9 Auburn University $75,092,576 $36,306,282 $38,786,294
10 Ohio State University $61,131,726 $22,984,985 $38,146,741

Source: Department of Education


So where does all that money come from?

Despite making all the headlines, television revenue isn’t the largest source of revenue for most college football programs. For example, Texas football banked almost exactly twice as much from contributions ($30.3 million) as it did from conference distributions ($15.3 million), which includes television revenue, according to its annual financial report filed with the NCAA. Texas is in the unique position of receiving additional television revenue from ESPN for its school-specific Longhorn Network cable channel, which does bring its television revenue closer to equaling contributions.

However, Texas is the only school within a major conference to have its own cable channel. To provide a more representative example—Michigan football reported $25.3 million in contributions and just $11.8 million from its conference distribution (which would include the conference’s primary television deal with ESPN, its contract with Fox for the conference’s football championship game and the conference’s own cable channel, Big Ten Network). Television deals are generally for multiple sports, so schools individually choose how much of a contract to attribute to each sport when reporting.

Contributions are also an important factor in college football revenue, because they’re generally required in order to purchase season tickets, and the amount of a person’s contribution can significantly impact their game day experience. A look at the Longhorn Foundation’s benefits chart shows how varying donation levels impact a fan’s ability to get priority seating, parking, championship tickets, access to premium seating and more. The greater the demand for season tickets, the higher the athletic department can set these donation levels.

Here’s a snapshot of how Michigan football generated its revenue in 2012-2013, according to its financial report filed with the NCAA:


Ticket Sales $36,825,136
Student Fees (fees assessed and restricted for use by athletics) $0
Guarantees (revenue received for participation in away games) $4,700,000
Contributions $25,312,201
Compensation and Benefits Provided by a Third Party (car stipend, country club membership, entertainment allowance, clothing allowance, speaking fees, housing allowance, compensation from camps, radio/tv income, and shoe and apparel income) $0
Indirect Institutional Support (the value of facilities and services provided by the university and not charged to athletics) $0
Direct Institutional Support (institutional resources provided for athletics and unrestricted funds allocated to athletics by the university) $0
Government Support $0
NCAA and Conference Distributions $11,781,374
Broadcast, Television, Radio and Internet Rights (those not covered by conference-wide contracts) $0
Program Sales, Concessions, Novelty Sales and Parking $1,838,533
Royalties, Licnsing, Advertisements and Sponsorships $0
Sport Camps $0
Endowment and Investment Income $1,017,947
Other $0
Total $81,475,191



Where does it all go?

The more mysterious aspect of the business of college football is where all that money goes. It doesn’t sit in a vault marked “Football Only,” and don’t let the naysayers tell you it’s all spent lining the pockets of head coaches.

For the 10 football programs with the greatest net revenue in 2012-2013, an average of 37 percent of football revenue was spent on expenses for the football program, for everything from the tuition, room and board for the scholarship student athletes to coaching salaries, travel, equipment and more.

Here’s what Michigan football’s expenses looked like in 2012-2013 according to its financial report filed with the NCAA:


Athletic Student Aid $4,518,037
Guarantees $1,450,000
Head Coach Salary/Benefits/Bonuses $3,681,653
Asst Coaches Salaries/Benefits/Bonuses $3,826,425
Support Staff Salaires/Benefits/Bonuses $1,399,334
Severance Payments $0
Recruiting $664,492
Team Travel $2,304,097
Equipment, Uniforms and Supplies $966,074
Game Expenses $2,033,205
Fundraising, Marketing and Promotion $67,376
Sport Camps $0
Direct Facilities, Maintenance and Rental $0
Spirit Groups $0
Indirect Facilities and Administrative Support $0
Medical Expenses and Medical Insurance $0
Memberships and Dues $2,935
Other $2,147,746
Total $23,061,374


What you’re probably curious about is how the remaining $58,413,817 from Michigan football’s revenue was spent. It’s not uncommon for football and men’s basketball to be the only teams within an athletic department producing more revenue than the expenses generated for the team. In fact, other teams generating net revenue are the exception, not the rule. Michigan does have two other teams who generate net revenue: men’s ice hockey and men’s lacrosse.


Revenue Expenses Net Revenue
Baseball $312,388 $2,190,623 -$1,878,235
Basketball $14,799,440 $6,488,836 $8,310,604
Football $81,475,191 $23,061,374 $58,413,817
Golf $32,305 $562,163 -$529,858
Gymnastics $48,403 $937,498 -$889,095
Ice Hockey $3,248,026 $3,086,799 $161,227
Lacrosse $2,378,900 $1,709,923 $668,977
Soccer $72,622 $1,176,703 -$1,104,081
Swimming and Diving $75,302 $1,651,309 -$1,576,007
Tennis $18,579 $810,825 -$792,246
Track and Field, X-Country $49,629 $1,530,279 -$1,480,650
Wrestling $43,512 $1,114,298 -$1,070,786
Basketball $440,353 $3,171,595 -$2,731,242
Field Hockey $64,657 $1,332,123 -$1,267,466
Golf $45,360 $698,307 -$652,947
Gymnastics $100,723 $1,595,390 -$1,494,667
Rowing $32,098 $2,171,364 -$2,139,266
Soccer $45,000 $1,651,739 -$1,606,739
Softball $300,721 $1,769,859 -$1,469,138
Swimming and Diving $49,097 $1,595,350 -$1,546,253
Tennis $62,831 $921,116 -$858,285
Track and Field, X-Country $141,452 $1,867,920 -$1,726,468
Volleyball $151,635 $1,626,854 -$1,475,219
Water Polo $2,798 $885,803 -$883,005


The teams at Michigan who are unable to generate enough revenue to support their expenses totaled over $27 million in losses in 2012-2013, according to a financial report filed with the NCAA. In fact, most teams don’t generate enough revenue to cover the tuition, room and board for student athletes on the team, much less coaching salaries, facility rent, travel, equipment and other expenses.

In addition to the expenses for individual teams, Michigan had another $67.3 million in expenses not attributed directly to one sport. Over $28.9 million of that was for facilities costs charged to the athletic department by the university for building and grounds maintenance, utilities, rental fees, operating leases, equipment repair and maintenance and debt service. Another $3.5 million was for marketing and promotional efforts not associated with just one team. Nearly $2 million was for equipment used by more than one team, and so on. Michigan also transferred over $1.1 million back to the university from its share of Big Ten Network revenue to be used for financial aid for non-student athletes.

Debt service on athletic facilities at Michigan runs over $15.1 million annually, and total outstanding debt for the athletic department was reported at $228.4 million. The athletic department supported 848 student athletes in 2012-2013, and far more than the 16 sports required by the NCAA for Football Bowl Subdivision membership.

So, the short answer of where it all goes is that Michigan’s football revenue (along with surpluses from men’s basketball, men’s ice hockey and men’s lacrosse) goes to support two dozen other teams and nearly 650 other student athletes.

Kristi A. Dosh is an attorney and a sports business analyst who has reported for outlets such as ESPN, Forbes, Campus Insiders, SportsBusiness Journal, Outkick the Coverage on, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She’s also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires.

Related Article: Income Inequality Extends Even to Highest Paid Athletes

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