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WKYT Investigates | COVID-19’s impact on UK Athletics

Reduced capacity, no fans or a canceled football season could cost millions.
Published: Aug. 12, 2020 at 5:45 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Much of Big Blue Nation hopes, no doubt, to see the Cats on the gridiron next month. But the fate of fall college sports remains in question as the coronavirus continues to spread across the country.

The Big 12 conference announced Wednesday that it still plans to play fall sports, one day after the Pac-12 and Big 10 announced that they are postponing their seasons.

Meanwhile, the Southeastern Conference, of which the University of Kentucky is a part, reaffirmed its position on football in the fall and pledged to move ahead with a tweaked, 10-game, conference-only schedule.

At many universities football is a big money-maker, and the same is true for UK Athletics. Yet officials have already had to plan for changes from the coronavirus to hurt financially. Scrapping the season could be particularly devastating.

In fiscal year 2019-20 (just ending) football was budgeted to bring in $40 million - more than a quarter of UK Athletics’ total revenue.

UK Athletics does not receive money from the state or university, so the money it makes helps it run its programs, pay for scholarships, etc. It also pays into the university - including full tuition rates for its scholarships.

In June, UK Athletics adjusted its budget for 2020-21 (the fiscal year just beginning), reducing the budget by 17 percent, or about $7.5 million, to account for a projected decrease in ticket revenue.

Drops in gifts and endowments, royalties, parking, and concessions and novelties were among the other revenue adjustments. (Some expenses went down, as well - notably, a roughly $2 million drop in team, recruit and staff travel.)

The adjusted budget still projects $39 million in football revenue - but it was based on events still carrying on as scheduled, UK Athletics said. Since then, UK Football’s seven home games planned for this fall have been whittled down to five.

When that budget was released in June, UK Athletics said in a statement that they would continue to monitor the coronavirus situation and make further adjustments if needed.

But there is still one major question mark remaining - and it is one upon which many other things depend.

Assistant Athletic Director Tony Neely told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer on Wednesday that they do not have projected revenue revisions right now because they still do not know how many fans might be allowed to attend games.

UK Athletics officials are working on a proposal to submit to the state, but it has not been finalized, Neely said.

We do not know what the impact could be on jobs, including seasonal positions at Kroger Field. A hiring notice for last season listed a need for about 40 gameday workers on the UK Athletics Hospitality Team. It is unclear what might happen to those positions, with fan capacity likely to be reduced for any football games this fall.

No one in UK Athletics has been laid off, Neely said.

UK Athletics could also feel the impact from the trickle-down of lost revenue from other sources. ESPN, which owns the SEC Network, could lose $800 million in ad revenue if the NCAA football season is canceled altogether, Sportico reports. The SEC reported distributing an average of about $45 million in revenue to member schools last year.

UK ranks 15th in the country for total athletics revenue, according to USA Today’s NCAA Finances database.

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