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Week of March 22, 2010

Research


College football programs appear recession-proof 


A new study supports what college football fans and rabid tailgaters already knew: nothing can keep diehard fans away from tailgate parties on game day.

Despite plummeting portfolios, fans of college Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams (formerly Division 1-A) have continued to buy tickets to watch their favorite teams. Indeed, college football is doing better than ever in many regards, says Rodney Fort, professor of sport management at the School of Kinesiology.

“Fans are crazy about college football,” Fort says. “Many individual schools and quite a few colleges have seen record attendance, and record attendance per game was set by quite a few conferences.

“In the current recession, the primary impact has been on portfolios. College football fans happen to be at that income level where their disposable income hasn’t been hit hard. Their portfolios are taking dramatic hits but their actual ability to pay mortgages and electric bills is still intact.”

In a study appearing in the June issue of the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, Fort examines what kind of impact the 11 major recessions in the last 50 years has had on the leading indicators for economic health for FBS college athletic departments. Indicators include attendance, media revenues, post-season revenues, operating revenues and expenses of athletic departments, and competitive balance. He also looked at business management responses in athletic departments during the first year of the recent recession that began in 2008.

Fort found very little evidence of any recessionary impact on any of the economic health indicators, with two exceptions during the 2001 recession: Bowl Championship Series payouts and operating revenues to the largest athletic departments dropped. However, the rebound and renewed growth in both was quick.

Most indicators show that football athletic departments are bullet-proof when it comes to economic downturns, but athletic departments are cutting costs. For instance, fewer teams stay in hotels the night before home games, some take buses rather than planes for short travel to games, and media guides have gone almost entirely online. Some athletic staff layoffs have happened, but no associate or assistant athletic directors have lost jobs, the study found.

“Critics spout that college sports are losing money left and right and that they are a constant drain on the university,” Fort says. “College sports — like academic units — are funded by revenue generated within the unit, and from university contributions at most schools. Now that things are really tight, the thinking is the university might jerk its support and that college sports would come tumbling down.”

But Fort argues that nothing could be further from the truth.

 

STAFF SPOTLIGHT

Kimberly Green, medical assistant specialist, U-M Health System, on what she loves about lighthouses: “(They) were always there to help people in a time of darkness.”