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U. of Wisconsin Losses Could Hit $100M Sans Football

Paul Steinbach

The best-case scenario in a conference-only Big Ten athletics competition landscape has the University of Wisconsin bracing to lose $60 million to $70 million in revenue. If the UW's financially lucrative football season is canceled entirely due to the coronavirus pandemic, the revenue impact could be greater than $100 million, according to athletic department officials.

As reported by the Wisconsin State Journala scenario being modeled by the athletic department in which the Badgers football team plays the conference-only schedule now on the table and all other UW sports continue projects a revenue decline of $60 million to $70 million in an operating budget that calls for spending about $139 million. The revenue decline could exceed $100 million without football's contribution, according to the UW.

It hasn't been determined how many games will be played in the conference-only format currently being planned for this season, or whether fans will be able to attend Wisconsin's home games at Camp Randall Stadium. Under normal circumstances, football's ticket sales, seat donations, sponsorships, parking, concessions and TV-driven conference distributions equate to substantial revenue for Wisconsin and all major football programs.

If there’s a football season, it’ll be without at least a large percentage of the crowds that help drive that revenue. That’ll impact the finances “considerably,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez told the State Journal.

A spokesperson said that the athletic department didn’t have to tap into an operating reserve fund held at the UW Foundation to cover a projected deficit of around $2.5 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year that ended June 30. That probably will change this year.

The reserve fund totaled more than $190 million at the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to an audit. Most was held in endowments or targeted for specific capital projects, so the available amount in the reserve isn’t enough to cover the loss of an entire year of operating revenue.

That said, student-athlete safety will be the UW's top consideration.  

“We’ve got to feel comfortable that our athletes will be safe before we move forward,” said Alvarez, who added that he assures recruits’ parents that his department will care for their children. “I want to be able to look them in the eye and say, yeah, I feel comfortable that they’ll be safe.”

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