Tennessee’s timing isn’t the best. Ticket-sale revenue is headed south at a time when travel expenses in an expanded SEC are headed north.
At least that’s what I took from the athletic budget explanation at Wednesday’s UT board of trustees meeting.
The five-year change in ticket revenue from 2010 to a projected 2014 is a negative 18.1 percent. That’s a lot of empty seats, primarily at Neyland Stadium.
In that same five years, travel expenses are up by 20 percent. One of the reasons listed by Bill Myers, the athletic department chief financial officer, is travel to Missouri and Texas A&M, the far-flung new outposts in the SEC.
Myers said UT travel to A&M and Mizzou added between $750,000 and $1 million to the travel budget this past year.
For now, the SEC football schedule is holding at eight games. I’m not sure how traveling to Texas A&M or Mizzou is more expensive than traveling to Arkansas or LSU.
Expansion did mean expanding the SEC basketball schedule from 16 to 18 games. I suppose that’s at least one road game taking the place of a home game against Gardner-Webb.
Myers also made a point that hadn’t occurred to me. Columbia, Mo., and College Station, Texas, are not exactly international air hubs. A quick turnaround to get in and out to, say, Starkville, can necessitate chartering instead of flying commercial and that’s expensive.
In the long run, having Texas A&M and Missouri on board will fatten UT’s checking account. Their lucrative TV markets were the only reason to expand in the first place.
The SEC distributed $20.7 million per school in TV loot this spring. That bonanza will grow significantly when the new SEC network with ESPN comes on line next year.
For now, though, Tennessee fans have a right to wonder if expansion has been good or bad for the Vols in the short term.
Last fall, they had to stomach a blown lead in the final minute at Neyland Stadium that led to a four-overtime loss to Missouri. That proved to be the difference in not qualifying for a bowl.
On the other hand they were spared playing the Aggies. Can you imagine that defense chasing Johnny Football all afternoon?
Men’s basketball earned a rousing four-overtime win at Texas A&M in February and beat Missouri here on Senior Day. It still didn’t get the Vols off the
bubble into the NCAA tournament.
The softball team lost an SEC regular-season title on a miserable, tough-luck weekend at Missouri but recovered to almost win a national title.
Going forward, both additions will give Tennessee all it wants on the playing fields and courts. The toughest conference got tougher.
The Aggies were a force in their maiden voyage, winning a couple of SEC titles and a Heisman trophy. The Tigers won’t be competing for championships in every sport but they’re UT’s peer in most cases.
That’s certainly the case in that most critical arena, football. It wouldn’t be a stretch to find that Nov. 2 in Columbia again determines whether the Vols go bowling or not.
As for the budgetary bottom line, the travel expenses are here to stay. The thing Tennessee can do something about is ticket sales.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.