As COVID-19 pandemic changes fall sports, K-State Athletics could face financial strain

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Bill Snyder Stadium will look a lot different this coming fall with fans being limited inside the stadium, one of the reasons why K-State Athletics will be hurting financially. (File Photo by Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State’s football team will — for the time being — plan to play a ten-game season with nine Big 12 Conference games and a nonconference tune-up against Arkansas State with play starting Sept. 12.

While the decision to play this fall was certainly not just about money, the financial impacts of the shortened football season will put K-State Athletics finances in a pinch.

Traditionally, football — and to a lesser extent men’s basketball — is the big money-maker for any athletics department. They make the money off of football-related sales and TV contracts and spend the lion’s share of it to sponsor the other sports the school plays.

K-State is no different. In fiscal year 2019, which covered the 2018-19 academic year, the Wildcat football team pulled in around 70 percent of K-State Athletics’ revenue, according to K-State’s NCAA Membership Finance report.

The big money maker for football was media rights, bringing in $19.5 million. That accounted for 64 percent of athletics total media rights revenue.

Football also made K-State 58 percent of team-specific contributions ($11.6 million from football), 75 percent of in-stadium revenue ($1.3 million) and a whopping 78 percent of ticket sale revenue ($12.35 million).

These numbers will surely be different this season — revenue will almost assuredly be down in a season with fewer games and likely reduced stadium-capacity.

An email sent to season ticket holders this season reads “we do not yet know how many fans will be able to attend games this fall,” but that Athletics does “anticipate that we will not be able to accommodate general public season tickets for all five home games during this unique and challenging season.”

The email gives season ticket holders an option to also opt out of the season if they feel uncomfortable attending games, as well the option to “let us know how you would like your season tickets and Ahearn Fund contribution handled.”

K-State sent a similar email to student season ticket holders, but it does not appear to give the option for a refund/credit.

Instead, it says “Although the number of fans able to attend games this fall remains unknown, the department continues to work with local county, city and university officials. Season ticket holders will be contacted via email as soon as capacity and ticket details are finalized.”

With anticipated decreased capacity, ticket sales and in-stadium revenues from concessions and merchandise purchases will also decrease. Smaller Ahearn Fund contributions, which stem from season ticket and parking pass sales, will likely decrease as well.

Media rights contracts are complicated agreements between the networks and the conferences and it is hard to anticipate whether the per-team revenue the Big 12 generates will increase with more people watching or decrease due to fewer games.

Looking at expenses, it’s hard to see where K-State will be able to cut money to try to offset those shortfalls. In 2018, football accounted for about 34 percent of all Athletics’ spending.

Sure, the coaches are taking pay cuts across the board. The AP estimated that those salary reductions would result in $1.5 million in savings.

K-State also will only be on the hook for paying guaranteed money to one nonconference opponent — Arkansas State — instead of two — North Dakota and Buffalo.

“In terms of the guarantee,” athletics director Gene Taylor said in a press conference Wednesday morning. “That is kind of off the table because they cancelled on us and we cancelled on them.”

Taylor also said that the Wildcats would be financially helping Arkansas State conform to the Big 12’s COVID-19 testing protocols to help keep K-State and Arkansas State players safe in the run-up to their Sept. 12 face-off in Manhattan.

The Big 12 requires testing three times a week, up from the planned once a week.

“As we sent them our contract, we said they would need to follow the Big 12 protocols of testing, and that is now changed from one to three,” Taylor said. “We offered to help them with that if they so desired, and I think we probably will for the additional two tests, just because we want to get that tenth game.”

With an ongoing pandemic, medical expenses are bound to increase. Outside of the cost of testing, K-State will be using EKG tests, echo testing and cardiac MRIs on COVID-19-positive players to ensure that they do not sustain the lasting heart and lung conditions that potentially come with the virus.

For the 2018 season, K-State spent a hair over $38,000 on medical expenses for football, three percent of the $1 million total for all of athletics.

The Wildcats will not be able to save on expenses like administrative overhead, debt on facilities, Big 12 dues and travel either since those are mostly fixed costs. In the 2018 season those line items totaled $7.6 million.

It should be noted that K-State traveled five times in 2018 and is scheduled to make the same five road trips this year to Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia, Iowa State and Baylor.

K-State Athletics staff did not respond to requests for comment on how they plan to cut expenses to remain one of only eight schools nationwide to have a fully funded athletics department with no campus or state funding.

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Nathan Enserro
Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, a graduate student from Olathe, Kansas, working on a Masters in Mass Communication. I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. This is my fourth year covering K-State sports for the Collegian.