COLUMBIA — Missouri athletic director Mike Alden has plenty on his mind, especially with the Tigers first game in the Southeastern Conference approaching this fall. But nothing quite commands his attention like his programs financial status, and all it takes is a look at the new competition to see why.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
The SEC is, quite clearly, the most competitive conference in America. It has not only produced the last six BCS National Champions in football, but also racked up national titles in nine sports last school year. But there is, quite literally, a price to pay for that success.
In the 2010-11 fiscal year, five SEC teams spent more than $90 million each on athletics, and four spent more than $80 million. Compare that to the Big 12, where Texas and Oklahoma were the only schools to spend more than $90 million and only three others Nebraska, Kansas and Texas A&M spent more than $70 million.
So its clear to Alden that Missouri which operated under a $64 million budget in 2010-11 must bridge that gap to be competitive in the SEC. He estimates that Missouris current operating budget ranks 11th out of 14 SEC teams, and that, he said, isnt good enough.
We believe that in the next five to seven years, we can be somewhere in the middle of the pack, anywhere ranging from sixth to eighth in the league, Alden said. Thats what we did in the Big 12 now were going to a league where were going to need to generate even more.
Mizzou faces another financial challenge as well.
When the fiscal year ended June 30, Missouri did not receive its $12.4 million share from the Big 12 as an exit penalty for leaving the conference. With its first SEC check not set to come until next summer, that revenue shortfall means the MU athletic department wont be able to pay all of its $65 million in expenses.
Instead, the university will cover the debt and the athletic department will pay back the school starting in 2016. Alden likened the situation to a bank providing a customer overdraft protection.
Mizzou knows well have an overdraft this year and theyll make sure all the bills are all covered, he said. But were going to start having to pay them back in three years.
Alden said he is confident the athletic department will be able to pay the money back in time. MU is set to receive upwards of $20 million in its first year in the SEC.
Nebraska had to do the same thing, Colorado had to do the same thing, Alden said of other schools who changed conferences and borrowed money. West Virginia is going to have to do the same thing.
So whats Aldens plan to increase revenue? It all started with research.
He and his staff looked at other schools who have managed to compete in tough conferences with fewer resources than their competitors Virginia Tech, Illinois and Michigan State, for example and found one school that helped provide a road map to financial success in the SEC.
After Arkansas moved into the Southeastern Conference, they have grown their budgets, MU senior associate athletic director for operations Tim Hickman said.
After the Razorbacks left the Southwest Conference for the SEC in 1992, they built new athletic facilities and steadily raised their operating budget. Arkansas generated $91 million in revenue and spent $80 million in 2010-11 each figure far ahead of Missouri.
Alden said Arkansas has increased revenue by focusing on three areas: ticket sales, annual giving and multimedia rights. Thats where Missouri is taking aim, too.
If you go to coach (Frank) Broyles, who is the former athletic director, and (current A.D.) Jeff Long over the course of those 20 years theyve been in the SEC, Alden said, you would see them talk about those three things.
MU, which has earned around $20 million in ticket revenue the last three fiscal years, raised football ticket prices across the board to a level Alden says is in the middle of the pack of the SEC.
As for multimedia rights, Mizzou reported around $4 million in revenue in fiscal year 2011 but Alden said the school currently makes around $4.2 to $4.3 million from its Learfield Sports contract and sees that number increasing in the future. And if the much-talked-about SEC Network is launched, Mizzou expects to be able to keep some of those rights on top of an increased share from the conference.
In order for us to make more money on multimedia rights, he said, we need to continue to make more money through corporate partnerships.
The last area in which Alden hopes to see improvement is annual giving. MU has reported contribution revenue in the range of $13 million to $14 million the last four fiscal years. But Alden is counting on fans to give more to the Tiger Scholarship Fund, which raised minimum donations for certain seats at Memorial Stadium.
Whether its $100 a year, $500 a year or $1,000 a year, our growth will be predicated on expanding the number of people who give to us, Alden said.
Then there are major gifts, such as the $30 million recently pledged to the university by the Kansas City Sports Trust. Hickman said the money is tentatively scheduled to be given over a 10-year period as the school undergoes $200 million worth of planned athletic facilities upgrades, $102 million of which is already accounted for with the donation and $72 million in bonds.
If you get some major gifts like we got the other day, Alden said, those can accelerate those other things moving forward.
They sure did for Arkansas.
In the early 1990s, Arkansas received $15 million from Wal-Mart co-founder Bud Walton toward the construction of a new basketball facility. Bud Walton Arena opened in 1993, and the school hasnt stopped improving since.
Long, Arkansas athletic director, and a few members of his leadership team visited Columbia about a month ago and shared ideas on growth. Like Missouri, Arkansas has big ideas, too. Last year it announced a 30-year, $320 million facilities upgrade plan.
We spent half a day with those guys, talking to them about things theyve been implementing, Alden said. We collaborate and share a lot of information with Arkansas.
Hickman said any major gifts Missouri receives will likely go toward completing projects that will, in time, increase the athletic budget.
The planned upgrades to Memorial Stadium mean more seats, 10,000 or more, which mean more money. Based on a study that projected additional revenue from facilities upgrades, school officials used a conservative estimate and concluded they could borrow $72 million. Alden expects to easily pay that back using revenue from future premium seating over a 30-year period.
Its the same financing, the same way they do it at South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alden said, comparing MU to three schools that have also renovated their athletic facilities.
The creation of the SEC Network could put even more dollars in each schools pockets. SEC commissioner Mike Slive is working on renegotiating the conferences already-rich TV contracts and there is momentum toward the schools combining their media rights to create a separate network like the Big Tens.
Thats going to really assist us, as far as increasing travel budgets and recruiting budgets, Alden said. We hope we could see that somewhere in fiscal year 2015. I think the SEC has proven that the pooling of all the rights in the league is a great deal for all of us.
There was a time when Hickman and Alden figured Missouri stood to earn at least $5.5 million more in its first year in the SEC.
Hickman is now confident those projections are a tad low.
We budgeted a $1.5 million gain in ticket sales, Hickman said, but I think well blow that out because we budgeted based on flat sales with new increased prices, but we have increased prices and increased sales.
He also added that the Tiger Scholarship Fund is on pace to surpass its expectation of an additional half-million in revenue.
Now Hickman feels comfortable projecting Missouri to make at least $7 million more in its first year in the SEC than it did in the Big 12.
And thats the conservative projection, Hickman said.
That would bring Missouris projected revenue this financial year to somewhere around $70 million higher than it was before but still far behind several SEC middleweights.
This does not bother Alden. Since he arrived at Missouri over a decade ago, he insists the athletic department has slowly and steadily improved its budget against the likes of big spenders like Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Nebraska, schools with bigger budgets and bigger stadiums.
For the most part, we did pretty good, we made good headway, Alden said. Now were going to be doing it again theres just a few more (big spenders) in the SEC than the Big 12.
Its part of the cost of moving to a big-time league.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.