NCF Nation: College Sports Business

Big East fans shouldn’t sound any alarms just yet, even though Notre Dame’s departure to the ACC continues what seems like a never-ending cycle of losses for the Big East.

It may not be the devastating blow it seems.

“The appearance and the perception of the departure by other Big East and or potential Big East members are probably more damaging than the actual act,” said Tom Stultz, managing director of the media division of JMI Sports and former managing director of IMG College’s multimedia rights business.

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In May 2011, the Big East turned down a TV broadcast rights deal from ESPN reportedly worth $11 million per school -- annually. Rights fees for conferences had been on the rise, and conference leaders were sure waiting for a better offer would pay off in a big way.

That was before the Big East lost Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC. Before TCU announced it was joining the Big 12 instead of officially becoming a Big East member. And before West Virginia left the conference to join TCU in the Big 12.

True, the Big East has since added Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU as full members, along with football-only members Boise State, San Diego State and Navy. But safety isn’t in numbers -- it’s in the revenue provided by the most lucrative TV deal possible.

Today’s announcement that CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco will become the commissioner of the conference confirms the Big East is making television a priority. Aresco has led programming for CBS since 1996, handling such negotiations as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the 15-year SEC contract.

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UConn backup quarterback Michael Nebrich has decided to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

Nebrich went into fall camp fighting for the backup job after coach Paul Pasqualoni announced junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer would start for the Huskies. With five quarterbacks on the depth chart, it became clear that there would be a mad squeeze for playing time.

As a true freshman last season, Nebrich played in eight games and passed for 69 yards. He also had 10 yards rushing. UConn now has Whitmer, true freshman Casey Cochran (out with a broken wrist), Wildcat quarterback Scott McCummings and Johnny McEntee, who started last year.
The financial penalties levied against Penn State on Monday morning are clear, but the true cost to the university and football program won’t be known for some time.

The NCAA penalized the school $60 million, among other sanctions. The Big Ten followed suit by announcing that it will donate Penn State’s portion of conference bowl revenue over the next four years to charity, which amounts to a projected $13 million.

On an annual basis, the school looks to lose about $15 million over the periods laid out in the NCAA (five years) and Big 10 penalties (four years). While that is a big number, it’s a number Penn State can absorb if the past is any indicator.

The athletic department had a surplus of $31.6 million in 2010-11, according to Penn State’s financial report filed with the Department of Education. For 2009-10, a surplus of $26.4 million was tallied; it was $19.5 million in 2008-09. Penn State is not subject to public disclosure laws with regards to its athletic department finances, so it’s tough to estimate how much the department has in reserve to assist in paying the penalty.

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Current non-automatic qualifying conferences might receive better access on the playing field under college football’s new playoff system, but it doesn’t sound as if they will have better access to the cash. Although there is expected to be more money to go around -- projected at anywhere from two to four times the current television revenue of $155 million per year -- how revenue would be distributed proportionately under the new system might not be all that different.

Under the current system, non-AQ conferences split approximately 18 percent of BCS revenue if one of their teams is selected for a BCS bowl game, and 9 percent if not. The AQs take home the rest.

“I think it’ll be adjusted modestly, but the five conferences are still going to get the lion’s share, it’s just how big of a lion are we talking about,” said Gary Ransdell, president of Western Kentucky University and a member of the Presidential Oversight Committee, which meets this week to finalize playoff plans.

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NCAA president Mark Emmert said a couple of weeks back that another round of conference realignment could be coming, as schools try to get in position for a proposed four-team college football playoff.

The goal of a move, of course, would be for schools to capitalize financially and academically. Yet an examination of prior moves shows financial gain is not necessarily a given (see table below).

The last time college football saw a major shift in conference alignment was when 16 schools moved from one FBS conference to another in 2004 and 2005. The majority of schools joined their new conferences in 2005, with only Miami and Virginia Tech making the move in 2004. The shifts:

Big East to ACC: Boston College, University of Miami, Virginia Tech

Conference USA to Big East: Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida

Mid-American Conference to Conference USA: Central Florida, Marshall

Western Athletic Conference to Conference USA: Rice, SMU, Tulsa, UTEP

Conference USA to Mountain West: TCU

Sun Belt to Western Athletic Conference: Idaho, Utah State, New Mexico State

Comparing NCAA financial disclosures filed the year before each public school shifted conferences to the same disclosures for the 2010-11 school year shows a majority of schools had revenue growth that outpaced FBS schools on average. From 2004-05 to 2010-11, public FBS schools overall on average saw operating revenue increase by 58 percent. For the 10 public universities that changed conferences in 2004-05, that number was 81 percent.

Mission accomplished with the moves, right? Not so fast.

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ESPN.com college football writers and bloggers are writing about escalating facilities costs in college football and also ranking school facilities.

As they note, building, renovating and expanding stadiums can cost tens of millions of dollars. So how does all of that get paid for given how few athletic departments are financially self-sustaining?

The answer is not as exciting as watching De'Anthony Thomas of Oregon score a touchdown. But how costs are covered can certainly be more important to the program in the long run.

The most common way to pay for stadium improvements is the issuance of tax-exempt bonds. A bond isn’t all that different from a loan in the sense that it is, in its most basic form, a contract to repay borrowed money with interest at fixed intervals. Municipalities, counties and state governments can generally issue bonds, which are governed by federal and state law. The purchase of a bond by an investor provides the money needed for a stadium project, with the investor gaining tax-free interest payments in return.

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The Atlantic Coast Conference’s television contract extension with ESPN, announced Wednesday, is the first of three major conference deals expected to be finalized in the next few months.

The ACC contract was extended after the addition of new members Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh last September. The shifting of schools as part of conference realignment also led to changes in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference that has those existing deals in play, too.

The ACC deal is worth $3.6 billion over the next 15 years, according to The Associated Press. That puts the ACC behind only the Big Ten and Pac-12 in terms of the average revenue per school, per year by one measure (viewing all current contracts divided between conferences’ 2012-13 membership.)

SportsBusiness Daily has reported the Big 12 has verbally agreed to a new contract with ESPN and FOX for its first-tier rights for $2.6 billion over 13 years. That would bring the per-year average for the Big 12 to $200 million and the per-school, per-year average to $20 million. The SEC is expected to reopen its contract talks with ESPN following the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M.

ESPN had no comment on any of the deals, which vary in what slate of rights are included, but a spokesman did say that the network is in regular contact with its business partners.

With all of the shuffling and extensions, it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a listing, according to information from The Associated Press, SportsBusiness Daily, SportsBusiness Journal and Adweek, of where things stand now. The Big 12 extension is not included because it has not been finalized. Also, per-year averages and per-school, per-year averages are straight averages and do not take into account actual variances by year as stipulated in individual contracts.

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The Atlantic Coast Conference’s television contract extension with ESPN, announced Wednesday, is the first of three major conference deals expected to be finalized in the next few months.

The ACC contract was extended after the addition of new members Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh last September. The shifting of schools as part of conference realignment also led to changes in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference that has those existing deals in play, too.

The ACC deal is worth $3.6 billion over the next 15 years, according to The Associated Press. That puts the ACC behind only the Big Ten and Pac-12 in terms of the average revenue per school, per year by one measure (viewing all current contracts divided between conferences’ 2012-13 membership.)

SportsBusiness Daily has reported the Big 12 has verbally agreed to a new contract with ESPN and FOX for its first-tier rights for $2.6 billion over 13 years. That would bring the per-year average for the Big 12 to $200 million and the per-school, per-year average to $20 million. The SEC is expected to reopen its contract talks with ESPN following the addition of the University of Missouri and Texas A&M.

ESPN had no comment on any of the deals, which vary in what slate of rights are included, but a spokesman did say that the network is in regular contact with its business partners.

With all of the shuffling and extensions, it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a listing, according to information from The Associated Press, SportsBusiness Daily, SportsBusiness Journal and Adweek, of where things stand now. The Big 12 extension is not included because it has not been finalized. Also, per-year averages and per-school, per-year averages are straight averages and do not take into account actual variances by year as stipulated in individual contracts.

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Say what you will about how it all ended, but this much is certain about Bobby Petrino’s tenure in Arkansas: He meant victories and money during his four years there.

From former coach Houston Nutt’s final season in 2007 to the 2010 season under Petrino, the Razorbacks saw donations to the football program rise a whopping 359 percent, with a more than 80 percent growth from 2009-10 to 2010-11, to $15.4 million. No other SEC school saw such growth in that time period: Auburn’s donations increased by 15 percent, while Florida saw a 9.7 percent increase. Georgia came in lower at 3.9 percent, and LSU saw donations decrease by more than 13 percent.

The figures come from data each university provides to the NCAA, and while it’s important to note that every athletic department handles donations differently -- some schools only take what they need each year from their fund-raising pots -- there’s no arguing Arkansas has seen a huge influx of cash during Petrino’s tenure.

Football revenue overall rose by 54 percent during Petrino’s first three years, to $61.1 million. Auburn, which won a national title during that time period, saw a 30 percent increase. LSU’s revenue growth came in at 13 percent to $69.1 million.

Petrino, who was in the middle of a seven-year contract under which his salary averaged $3.53 million, put teams on the field that had fan-friendly high-powered offenses.

“Under Petrino, the team averaged 94 percent capacity for home games. It was only 91 percent under [Houston] Nutt,” said Scott Prather, one of the founders of Coaches by the Numbers, a website dedicated to gathering statistical data on football coaches. “If you figure each ticket at an average of $50 per ticket, that’s nearly $600,000 per year.”

Petrino’s last two teams won 81 percent of their games, the best two-year record for any Razorback coach since 1988-89 under Ken Hatfield. In his Tuesday press conference announcing Petrino’s firing, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long acknowledged he has a tough road ahead as he searches for a new football coach.

“It's a difficult time of year to be searching for a head football coach, no question,” said Long.

Replacing a successful coach is also potentially difficult timing for the athletic department, which broke ground on a new football complex last fall as part of a comprehensive athletic facilities master plan for many sports. The master plan, which aims to be funded solely by private donations, is estimated to cost up to $327 million at full completion.

Heather Collart, a former athletics administrator who now works for the Detroit Pistons, said the loss of an administrator or coach can have a definite impact on donations and capital campaigns.

“While talent reigns supreme within athletics, the personality of leadership has a stronger tie than most people realize to donors, alumni and especially former student-athletes,” said Collart.

The message from the university will be key in the next weeks several weeks, she said.

“Boosters will always question difficult decisions, especially when it results in the loss of a figurehead who had an enduring personality or winning record -- however if you can point to a long-standing process that holds a mission statement as gospel, boosters will come to accept the decision much more quickly and in most cases will remain loyal to a program.”
One of the most frequent sources of debate and disdain when it comes to college football’s Bowl Championship Series is the disparity between payouts to automatic-BCS-qualifying conferences and non-automatic qualifiers.

It turns out that gulf is just as big when it comes to NCAA distributions from March Madness.

Last year, the Big East brought home more men’s basketball tournament money -- $24.9 million -- than any other conference. The most a non-automatic-qualifier conference brought home was Conference USA, at $6.95 million.

Not much is likely to change this year, as 14 of the Sweet Sixteen teams hail from automatic-qualifying football conferences. Nine are from the Big East and Big Ten conferences.

Since automatic-qualifying conferences were formed in 1998, no school outside of those has won an NCAA men’s basketball national title, and every champion since 1967 would fit into today’s FBS conference lineup. Just three national championship games since 1998 have featured a team from outside such conferences.

Although March Madness produces revenue of $771.4 million a year, as compared to $162.5 million generated by the BCS’s television contracts, the majority of conferences receive more revenue from the BCS than from the NCAA’s Basketball Fund, as the table shows.

Schools from the six automatic-qualifier football conferences brought home 47.5 percent of all money distributed by the NCAA based on performance in the tournament, while the five non-automatic-qualifier conferences banked 10.5 percent. The rest went to teams whose conferences play football at a lower level. In football, the disparity is even starker: automatic-qualifier conferences took home 85 percent of all BCS money distributed last year.

March Madness is the primary revenue generator for the NCAA, so not all money is distributed based on performance in the tournament. For 2010-11, the NCAA distributed $452 million of the approximately $771.4 million produced by its television contract.

Just $180.5 million was distributed based on performance in the NCAA tournament through what’s called the “Basketball Fund.” An almost identical amount was distributed based on how many sports each school sponsors and how many grants-in-aid each supports. The remainder is distributed for academic programs and financial assistance for student-athletes.

The Basketball Fund portion of the NCAA’s distribution each year is based on how many units each team in the tournament earns. Each team in each game except the championship game receives a unit for playing. This year each unit is worth $242,000.

Money is distributed based on a six-year rolling period by adding up all of the units earned by each school during the preceding six years. Checks are cut to the conference, not the individual school which participated in the tournament, unless the school is independent. Each conference then chooses whether to divide the money equally or based on tournament performance.

The SEC has historically divided the money it receives into 13 equal shares, with the conference keeping one share, after reimbursing participating teams for travel and rewarding them for performance. In addition, schools receive $50,000 for participating in each round up to the Final Four and $100,000 for appearing in the Final Four.

The Big 12 distributed by an entirely different method in 2010-11. Each member institution was awarded an amount equal to the units the school earned in the current fiscal year. Revenue from units earned by members during the previous five years was divided equally among all members. The conference did not supplement travel or other expenses.

Loss of games due to realignment costly

February, 20, 2012
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Conference realignment is coming along with short-term costs in the 2012 college football schedule.

Before it left the Big East, West Virginia canceled its game against non-conference opponent Florida State and paid a $500,000 cancellation fee. But Elliott Finebloom, an assistant athletic director at FSU, said the loss of the home game will cost the Seminoles far more than the program received in the cancellation fee.

“We’ll probably lose $2.5 million in ticket sales,” he said, and that’s not including a drop in season ticket sales resulting from the cancellation. It could cost FSU another $1 million to bring an opponent into town. Filling the WVU slot with an away game is not going to happen, said Finebloom.

“Seven home games is something every business in town counts on, from hotels to restaurants,” he said. “People think it’s about the athletic department wanting to make more money, but we have a responsibility to area businesses who count on seven home games.”

Texas A&M, which moves from the Big 12 to the SEC this year, has given up home games and has only five scheduled at Kyle Field for 2012. The school has had seven home games for the past six years.

Aggies Fan SEC
Patrick Green/Icon SMITexas A&M may only have five home games this season as a result of its move to the SEC.
For the 2010 season, Texas A&M’s average revenue from ticket sales, concessions, novelties, program sales and parking was $4.2 million per game, according to NCAA disclosures. With two fewer home games this year, the Aggies could be looking at an $8 million-plus loss.

Alan Cannon, an associate athletic director at Texas A&M, said the schedule still isn’t set in stone, though.

“It has been the desire of [athletic director] Bill Byrne to have six or seven home games, if at all possible,” he said. “The location of the Arkansas game is still not determined.”

Texas A&M and Arkansas agreed to play a neutral site game at Cowboys Stadium for 10 years. But with the Aggies’ move to the SEC, both sides are discussing whether the game will remain there.

There are short-term winners in the conference realignment story.

Smaller programs could see increased profits in 2012 as major programs are forced to pay guarantees to secure home games or travel to locales they normally wouldn’t consider.

One such school is Louisiana Tech. Although considered a home game, Louisiana Tech will play Texas A&M in Shreveport’s Independence Stadium, which gives Louisiana Tech the ability to bank big profits for the game and gain exposure.

“[Playing in Shreveport] helps us expand our market,” said Patrick Walsh, an associate director in the school’s athletic department. “Our goal is to be the premiere flagship university in Northern Louisiana. Playing occasional games in Shreveport and growing our fan base there is critical to our success.”

For a regular season home game against a conference opponent, Louisiana Tech makes approximately $30,000. The club seating area in Independence Stadium alone gives Louisiana Tech the chance to make more than twice that amount. A sellout would allow the school to bank more than $1.1 million in profit.
“We played Miami there in 2003 and had over 43,000 [people]. We had over 40,000 when A&M came to Shreveport in 1999,” said Walsh.

Schools in the Big East are unclear just how much WVU’s departure may cost them as they scramble to fill schedules. Big East schools also have to fill the TCU game, which came open before the school even joined the conference.

“I wish there was an easy strategy we could all employ to make it work,” said Bob Arkeilpane, Cincinnati’s deputy athletics director. “The truth is, it’s extremely difficult. You want to come up with a balanced schedule that will work financially and make the coach happy, make the fans happy, and the Big East happy.”

The solution? Arkeilpane thinks perhaps the conference will get involved, though not necessarily by giving schools some of the money it is receiving from the WVU departure payout.

“I’ve heard absolutely nothing like that, but it makes sense you would hear a lot of speculation,” he said.

Arkeilpane also worries about the bowl implications if Cincinnati has to play two FCS schools in order to fill out its schedule. If a team plays two FCS opponents, it must have seven wins -- instead of six -- to be bowl eligible. Cincinnati is already scheduled to open the season at home against FCS opponent Delaware State.

The Big East could petition the NCAA for an exemption to the FCS rule. Big East officials declined to comment on that possibility. Such an exemption has been sought before: In 2010, Arizona State asked for an exemption after San Jose State backed out of a game and the Sun Devils scheduled Portland State. The NCAA denied the request.

In the end, however, Arkeilpane is confident the conference will work things out, so for now, the Bearcats wait.

“This is a Big East issue and all the member institutions will have to work together to figure out what the solution is,” said Arkeilpane.
It looks like those trying to cash in on Thursday's public Joe Paterno memorial service -- tickets were distributed by Penn State on Tuesday morning -- are getting crushed by Internet users.

A few sets of tickets popped up on eBay and craigslist not long after they were distributed, but the postings were either removed by the original poster or flagged for removal.

One set of tickets slowly escalated from a $0.99 initial bid to $500 before bids moved into the ridiculous range of $10,000 and $90,000 -- eBay users’ way of protesting the sale to the seller. At least two other auctions were put up by different sellers and then removed.

At least two craigslist ads were removed by early Tuesday afternoon, though a handful of people have posted “wanted” listings for tickets.

In the case of the first set of tickets on eBay that drew the $90,000 bid, the seller amended the posting with this message: “To those opposing this auction: no one is forcing you to buy tickets; it is a choice. And yes, there are much worse ways to make a dollar, judge not lest ye be judged. You do not know my situation. Thank-you.”

Penn State and eBay have an agreement that no free tickets can be auctioned. Penn State officials are urging those who see such sales to report them to eBay.

Cracking down on counterfeit apparel

January, 8, 2012
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The retail market for licensed collegiate apparel is, quite simply, a behemoth of a business that brings in about $4.3 billion annually.

Seemingly everyone wants a piece of it, which is why so many people at so many major events hawk items of all shapes, types and sizes -- whether the items are legitimately made and licensed or counterfeit.

[+] EnlargeCounterfeit Shirts
Kristi Dosh/ESPN.comSome counterfeit shirts look more authentic than others.
Vendors selling counterfeit goods mixed right in with legitimate vendors at the SEC Championship game in December in Atlanta. They did it at the Rose Bowl, too. And they’ll do it again Monday night at the 2012 Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Last year, more than 60,000 pieces of counterfeit merchandise valued at more than $1 million overall were seized by Collegiate Licensing Company. While CLC represents nearly 200 colleges, universities, bowl games, athletic conferences, the Heisman Trophy and the NCAA, it’s not the only licensing agency around; Learfield Sports, Licensing Resource Group, and Silver Star Merchandising represent collegiate properties in their licensing efforts as well.

At the 2011 SEC championship Game, CLC took possession of 1,012 pieces of unlicensed product with an estimated retail value of more than $15,000. That’s up from 2010, when 541 pieces of unlicensed produced were seized or voluntarily surrendered by vendors. More than twice that many products were seized last January at the Rose Bowl by CLC.

CLC officials said that on average, nearly 5,000 counterfeit items, from T-shirts to hats to bracelets, are seized outside the host stadium of the BCS title game each year.

Some of the items are obvious: In December in Atlanta, a roaming vendor on Mangum Street south of the Georgia Dome peddled T-shirts, gold letters emblazoned on purple reading: “BATON [expletive] ROUGE.” The back of the shirt warned: “IF YOU DON’T BLEED PURPLE AND GOLD TAKE YOUR [double expletive] HOME!”

Most people wouldn’t consider such a shirt an officially licensed product of Louisiana State University because of the vulgar language. But another vendor sold shirts proclaiming a “2011 SEC Championship Showdown” and featured the trademarked logos for LSU and Georgia. Few buyers would be able to determine the shirts were counterfeit.

CLC investigators team with local police at major events and seize such material, give citations to the vendors or arrest them. Companies like CLC conduct such enforcement activities because federal law requires trademark owners to “police” their mark. Trademark law is largely enforced through private lawsuits, although there are also criminal penalties for counterfeiting goods. Failure to police a mark by attempting to prevent infringing uses can result in a loss of protection for a trademark.

[+] EnlargeCounterfeit Apparel Bust
Kristi Dosh/ESPN.comAtlanta police and investigators from Collegiate Licensing Company walk a man accused of selling counterfeit apparel away from the SEC championship game in December.
The most clear-cut violations by vendors are those involving the use of trademarks that are registered at the state or federal level. Trademarks include more than just the university, conference or BCS logo. For example, University of Georgia lists the following trademarks: “Georgia,” “University of Georgia,” “Georgia Bulldogs,” “Bulldogs,” “Dawgs,” “UGA,” “University of Georgia Athletic Association,” “Between The Hedges,” “How Bout Them Dogs,” “Go You Silver Britches,” “Hairy Dawg,” the oval “G” mark and many others.

In addition to registered trademarks at the state or federal level, universities can also claim common law rights to marks or wording typically associated with the university.

In 2008, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by a Louisiana federal district court against Smack Apparel for intentional trademark infringement based on its use of school colors in combination with other designs and words that made it apparent the references were designed to associate with a particular school. For example, one shirt featured the following: “Got Seven?” “We do! 7 Time National Champs.” The shirt included a depiction of the state of Ohio and a marker noting Columbus, Ohio, on the back. The court decided the shirt referred to the seven college football national titles claimed by Ohio State University.

The court ruled that the schools involved in the suit owned trademark rights in their color schemes and that combined with other indicia on the various shirts, such as the reference to Ohio State’s location in Columbus and national titles in the example above, trademark infringement had occurred, even without use of the school name or logo.

So, who are these vendors?

One of them cited in Atlanta was the man selling the shirts with the expletives. He said he planned to keep $8 of the $20 shirt cost, with $12 going to his boss. He expected to make $1,500 to $2,000 that day before he was stopped by CLC investigators and Atlanta police for vending without a permit.

The man said he was based out of Cleveland but traveled nearly every weekend for major sporting events. He said he worked for a company named Street Talk Tees, which is registered as a business in Ohio for “novelty tees and apparel.” The vendor said his company employs about 30 people who travel to events -- two others also worked the SEC game.

Requests for comment from Street Talk were not answered.

[+] EnlargeTag
CLCThese tags and holograms can be found on licensed collegiate apparel and items.
CLC says buyers have a few ways to determine the authenticity of their purchases:

•  Look for an “Officially Licensed Collegiate Products” hologram on the product or hangtag.

•  Consider taste of the product, as distasteful designs are not approved by trademark holders.

•  A torn or missing tag usually is evidence of a second-hand garment.

•  The name of the manufacturer will be on the product somewhere, either in the form of a hangtag, a neck label, or screen-printed directly.

•  All merchandise should have appropriate trademark designations next to a specific name or design.

Why be so conscientious when you buy collegiate merchandise? Each year, universities depend on millions of dollars in royalties to fund athletic programs and other university initiatives. For example, the University of Florida showed more than $6 million in licensing revenue on its audited financial statement for 2010-11, with just $40,000 of that going to CLC in marketing fees.

Ohio State budgeted for $3.5 million in licensing revenue for 2011-12 and projects $1.58 million of that will move from the athletic department to the university, to be used for academic programming and scholarships.

The 2011-12 bowl season hasn’t been a gem in terms of attendance, even with four games yet to play. Nearly 3 percent fewer people -- 42,959 -- have attended games this season than last year.

Yet college football profits topped $1 billion last year, attendance during the regular season increased for the fourth time in five years last year, and big matchups like the LSU-Alabama game this November were huge on TV -- that game alone drew almost 6.5 million more viewers than 2010’s highest-rated matchup. So what gives with the bowl attendance?

Bowl executives list a number of reasons for the decline. Tina Kunzer-Murphy, an ESPN executive who is also executive director of the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas and chairwoman of the Football Bowl Association, says factors include public disenchantment with football’s postseason system, the tough economy and games that feature teams which haven’t been able to draw fans. (ESPN owns seven non-BCS bowl games and the BCS broadcast rights through 2014.)

Seven bowls thus far have seen a decrease in attendance of 10,000 or more from last year. With the exception of the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, all have one thing in common: last year’s game featured a team whose campus was less than 300 miles from the bowl. In the cases of the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Sheraton Hawaii Bowl and Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman, last year’s matchup featured a team within just 10 miles.

After posting its highest attendance ever last year at 48,049 with local team San Diego State University playing, the Poinsettia Bowl saw attendance slashed in half this year with a TCU vs. Louisiana Tech matchup. The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl saw a decline of more than 10,000 this year with its Southern Miss vs. Nevada matchup, with Nevada distributing less than 1,000 tickets to its fans.

The Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and Outback Bowl each featured a team located less than 300 miles away last year, and each saw at least 11,000 fewer tickets sold this year. The local-school-tie-in anomaly: the Gator Bowl, which despite having a matchup between Urban Meyer’s former team and the team he’ll coach in 2012 -- and the University of Florida’s close proximity to Jacksonville -- the bowl saw a decline of 16,185 fans this year.

Bowls that saw increases of 10,000 or more fans this year similarly saw their fortunes tied to fan base proximity.

The Chick-Fil-A Bowl, which saw its 15th straight sellout in 2011, benefits from its proximity to the fan bases of the ACC and SEC, but that’s not the key to success, says bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan.

“Every bowl has the opportunity if they work diligently to sell tickets to local people and businesses before the teams are announced," he says. Stokan says his bowl sells approximately 38,000 tickets each year before teams are announced, leaving essentially only the team ticket allotments available.

While he says some of the bowl’s success is due to Atlanta being the “capital of college football” and home to the first- or second-largest segment of each ACC and SEC school’s alumni base, he believes the true secret to attendance success is in selling to locals, not waiting until schools are announced to sell to fans.

Will Webb, executive director of the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, says his bowl looks at fan interest level, not only proximity.

He says in addition to attending games and paying close attention to a team’s record for the second half of the season, bowl officials also monitor Internet message boards. A lot of fans calling for a coach’s head? Then the fan base probably isn’t excited enough about a bowl game to pack the house. Last year, Louisville looked like a good choice until the bowl committee noted the Cardinals’ basketball schedule. Officials saw a basketball game against rival Kentucky scheduled for the same time as the bowl game. Needless to say, the bowl passed Louisville.

Kunzer-Murphy echoed some of Webb’s sentiments with regard to the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. Down to Arizona State or UCLA, bowl officials had to weigh UCLA’s two big losses at the end of the season and firing of head coach Rick Neuheisel. Meanwhile, Arizona State had never been selected for the bowl, had never played in Nevada, and traveling to Las Vegas would be easy.

When asked about potential changes in light of the down attendance this year, each bowl executive had a somewhat different answer, but all were open to change. Kunzer-Murphy believes change is inevitable once conference realignment is settled. Stokan likes a playoff idea that keeps the BCS bowls but also boosts the importance of the other bowls.

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