Digging into the UAB Athletics announcement – Part 1

01.12.2015 by André Natta · → 1 Comment

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NOTE: The Terminal has been (mostly) quiet as I, André Natta, prepare to make a presentation to the Alabama chapter of the Public Relations Society of America on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Here’s the link with all of the information about the talk.) Preparing for the talk meant doing a completely separate, independent review of all the facts — those everyone is aware of and those folks aren’t quite paying attention to yet. Much of that research hinges on digging deeper into the Carr Report — a document (now 58 pages) that has been cited by UAB president Ray Watts as a key tool in reaching the decision. This is the first of the reports resulting from that research.

The Conference USA numbers

Conference-USAThe detailed version of the Carr Report also fails to take into consideration the fact that all of Conference USA’s current television contracts are set to expire at the end of the 2015-16 academic year. (That would be on page 22, a.k.a. Exhibit 1, Page 5.) Yes, they did just sign a contract with the American Sports Network in July – for two years, meaning it will expire at the same time. C-USA has been attempting to raise its profile in recent months, with pieces such as this incredible one published on SBNation about the first ever Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Christmas Eve. They also paid for a PR consultant to help raise Marshall’s profile in advance of bowl game selections. The loss of UAB football is potentially a major one insofar as leverage in contract negotiations for television networks. It seems as though we’re football crazy in metro Birmingham – the market has just been named number 1 for college football for the fourteenth year in a row with a 9.2 rating. Add that to the performance of this year’s team – arguably playing what turned out to be the most challenging schedule in its conference this year – and you realize when the number 2 TV market in the country is down at 5.2, it’s a major issue. Even if it were to go a more digital route, like the Mountain West (the one C-USA almost merged with a couple of years ago) has done in partnership with Campus Insiders, it would lead to less money that what is currently shown in the Carr Report.

Efforts to get the conference office to provide comment about the status of television contract negotiations have been unsuccessful so far. Any reply will be added to this story as an update.

The financial reports filed by non-sports business reporters

Googling the name of the author of the Vice Sports report would let you know he is currently working as a consultant for the plaintiffs involved in the O’Bannon vs. NCAA lawsuit — the one still working its way through the legal system. His analysis assumes the university does not have to pay the room and board costs associated with housing the athletes as part of the new NCAA Division I governance rules. They may not have to “pay,” but there is still a “cost” that must be undertaken by the university to provide this amenity. Not paying the cost means a wider deficit to be filled with a growing subsidy from the academic side. There is also a cost to providing guaranteed scholarships for their entire academic career, including the cost of paying for former student athletes to complete their degree if they choose to return after leaving to pursue a career as a professional athlete. The projected health care costs given the industry’s current fluctuations suggests they may be conservative. Needless to say, it’s an optimistic stance taken in the document. It’s also showing some revenue as non-existent – including ticket sales at Regions Field during baseball season. Ohio State is playing in town the last week of February for a non-conference series against the Blazers; it alone invites the opportunity to increase revenue.

Actions undertaken by peer schools

Something else to be considered is the cost of the indoor practice facility in relation to other conference schools. The one most often mentioned recently is Florida Atlantic University. Lost in the excitement surrounding the announcement by Dr. Watts on December 2 was one by FAU – that of the largest single donation in the school’s history of $16 million (actually matching one made several years earlier) to help jump start fundraising efforts for a $44 million, 185,000 square feet athletic facility. Yes, $44 million to build a facility that will be primarily used not only by their football squad, but by the 20 other teams fielded by the school located in Boca Raton, Florida. All of the reports associated with the $10 million indoor practice facility suggests it would only be for the football team.

There are other issues to be raised, and they will be shared after the case study presentation tomorrow afternoon.

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Filed under: Sports · UAB