UCF athletics emerged from the coronavirus pandemic in the black thanks to a variety of cost-cutting moves, donor contributions and a series of buyout packages. The department projects a $1.5 million surplus off last year.
The news comes as the UCF Athletics Association submitted a proposed operating budget of $71.8 million to the university for the 2021-22 academic year, an increase of nearly 13% from the previous season, reflecting optimism as the school looks to return to pre-pandemic standards.
The plan, presented during a UCF Board of Trustees meeting in June, was based on expectations that the campus would return to full seating capacity for athletic events as well as hosting a full home-game schedule for football.
New athletics director Terry Mohajir, who arrived in February to replace outgoing AD Danny White, said the department did better than expected, in part, because of the combined $6 million the school received in buyouts from Tennessee for White and football coach Josh Heupel.
“That really helped us a lot,” Mohajir said.
The view UCF Bounce House of during an NCAA college football game of Temple at UCF in Orlando. (Gerald Leong/Orlando Sentinel)
The department was looking at a possible shortfall of $3.5 to $5 million before the departures of White and Heupel.
The revenue budget for the athletics department for the 2020-21 academic year was $59,189,838, according to documents presents at the BOT meeting.
UCF’s athletics budget has grown from $51 million in 2015-16 to an expected $74 million in 2020-21, but much of the expected revenue comes in the form of ticket sales for seven home football games, donations, sponsorships and payouts from the American Athletic Conference as part of its media-rights package.
But with growing concerns over the long-term economic impact of the pandemic, the department announced last July that individual athletic teams would be cutting their budgets by 10% through a variety of cost-cutting measures meant to offset any possible economic shortfalls from any postponed or canceled competitions and COVID testing.
Those measures including freezing salaries, spending and new hires.
UCF athletics also launched the Keep Charging On fundraising campaign that was created in order to help offset any additional expenses from the pandemic. The fund has raised $1.83 million of its $2 million goals so far.
Expenses were also curbed when the NCAA issued a recruiting dead-period that prevented coaching staffs from any in-person contact with high school recruits. UCF previously spent about $890,000 on recruiting expenses in 2019, according to the Knight Foundation database.
The 2021-22 budget includes student athletic fees of $25.1 million, scholarship support of $10.3 million and Title IX support of $1.7 million. It also accounts for a projected increase in sponsorship revenue from last season but below the 2019-20 academic year due to the pandemic’s impact on the economy.
The budget also includes an increase in scholarship expenses as the department looks to fund an additional year of eligibility for athletes who saw their seasons impacted by the pandemic.
There was a budgeted increase in compensation expenses as the department works to expand its television and video production staff as well as nutrition and counseling programs along with the leadership academy.
The budget included money for facilities upgrades, including turf replacement in the Nicholson Fieldhouse, a new audio system for the baseball and softball stadiums and power upgrades for the football stadium.
UCF survived better than other state athletic programs such as those at Florida and Florida State, which rely heavily on game-day revenue. UF lost $54.5 million in revenue due to the pandemic but managed to stay afloat due to its reserve fund of $51 million and a $23 million cash infusion from the SEC. FSU, meanwhile, reportedly faced a $26 million deficit last season despite cutting its athletic budget by 20%.
The majority of UCF revenue comes in the form of fees paid by the student body.
UCF Athletics survived pandemic with help from cost-cutting, buyouts Jun 30, 2021 COVID challenges still lurk on horizon for college sports Jun 30, 2021 13 UCF players make Phil Steele’s preseason All-AAC team Jun 29, 2021
With the expectations for a full home football schedule, the department is budgeting for a full return for ticket sales. UCF played a truncated nine-game season in 2020 that saw the school host a reduced number of home games. That, along with limiting attendance to 25%, saw ticket sales drop from $4.399 million in 2019-20 to $1 million in 2020-21.
The school went from averaging 43,788 fans in its six home games in 2019 to 9,365 fans through four home games in 2020.
UCF has sold 95% of its season tickets for the upcoming season.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Matt Murschel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.