It’s worse than first thought.
A couple of weeks ago, it was revealed that Marshall University’s athletic department had lost money the last two years — $1.2 million in 2018 and $1.4 million in 2019 — according to statistics from the College Athletics Financial Information Database.
But the reality of the situation is the Thundering Herd’s athletic department actually has lost money during six of the last seven years.
Six out of seven!
Besides that, Marshall has lost money during 10 of the 15 years it has been a member of Conference USA.
It all began in 2005, when MU’s athletic department lost $200,000. The good news is Marshall rebounded in 2006 and 2007, finishing $460,000 and $20,000 in the black, respectively.
That’s when the real slide began. From 2008 through 2019, Marshall’s athletic department lost money in nine of the 12 years.
In 2008, it was “only” $480,000, but in 2009 Marshall lost $2.66 million followed by a loss of $2.61 million in 2010.
Those were the two largest deficits during the 15 years.
The ship was righted in 2011 with the athletic department finishing $1.29 million in the black, followed by an even more productive 2012 with $2.38 million in profits. The 2012 revenue was the largest profit in the 15 years.
That two-year surge ended in 2013, however, as Marshall lost $750,000. The deficit decreased slightly in 2014, falling to $730,000. But it was more improved in 2015, finishing $$330,000 in the red.
It was the last time Marshall’s athletic department has been in the black. In 2016, the Herd finished with $1.25 million in revenue.
Then, the slide started in 2017 with losses of $1.05 million and escalated into 2018 and ’19.
So, what is the problem?
Is it simply too much spending, too loose with the purse strings, too extravagant?
Or, are their underlying issues?
One obvious problem is Marshall and the other Conference USA members don’t realize the television revenue they once did. That is significant.
Another problem is the escalating travel expenses in a league as far-flung as C-USA.
But another prime consideration is ticket sales. It has been a struggle at Marshall ever since a “re-seating” policy was enacted in 2014 that alienated many faithful Thundering Herd fans.
There has been a noticeable decline in recent years.
From 2005-2010, ticket sales were consistently in the high $2 million range. But in 2011, sales broke through with $3.95 million in revenue. Then, it stayed fairly consistent from 2012 through 2016 with consistent sales of $3.6 million, $3.3 million, $3.33 million, $3.48 million and $3.5 million.
But in 2017, a 6-1 start by Marshall fueled ticket sales of $3.89 million.
That was a one-year aberration, however, as ticket sales fell to $3.11 million in 2018. The 2019 figures weren’t available, but the numbers certainly aren’t going to improve in 2020.
Even if Marshall does have a football season, the seating will be limited and force ticket revenue to decrease.
Another factor is institutional support. That is the amount of money the university supplies the athletic department to help ends meet. It has fluctuated wildly over the years at Marshall.
In 2005, it was as low as $3.31 million. It grew into the $5 million range during the next five years and, then, exploded in 2011 with $8.19 million in institutional support.
That set off a three-year trend with $10.24 million in 2012, $10.49 million in 2013 and $10.06 million in 2014. But, then, the trend reversed. In 2015, MU’s institutional support dropped to $8.12 million, followed by $8.68 million in 2016 and $8.08 million in 2017.
In 2018, it fell to $7.84 million.
Lower ticket sales, less institutional support and bigger deficits in the athletic department certainly doesn’t bode well for Marshall’s future.
Now, add in the recent $5 million cut, which drops MU’s athletic budget to $25 million and change, and what becomes the obvious emotion?
Lots and lots of alarm.