Andrew Zimbalist, writing in today's WSJ ("March Madness It Is, Economically") spells out how most colleges also lose, investing far more that they recoup. Read the whole thing. Here is an excerpt.
There are a few winners. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, for instance, makes out quite well. Last year, Madness brought in $548 million from TV rights and an additional $40 million from ticket sales and sponsorships, together representing an eye-popping 96% of all NCAA revenue.
Amid this cornucopia, the schools themselves are usually the losers. According to the NCAA's latest Revenues and Expenses report, in 2005-06 the median Division I men's basketball team generated revenue of $480,000 and had operating costs of $1.33 million, yielding a net operating loss of $850,000. If capital expenses and full university overhead were included, these results would be even more dismal.
The most successful programs, of course, will do better (the top 10 basketball teams had revenues of more than $11 million), but even these programs frequently lose money when the accounting is done properly. Why?
Most of the 300-plus Division I schools aspire to make it to the March tournament. To do so, they have to spend big. Since they can't go to a free-agent market to hire the best high-school players, they attempt to attract them in other ways. First, they spend lavishly to court the players during the recruitment process.
Next, they attempt to provide state-of-the-art arenas and training facilities, complete with luxury suites, Jumbotron scoreboards and spacious locker rooms. They invest in academic tutoring facilities, costing as much as $15 million, to help the athletes stay eligible for competition. Then they hire well-known coaches with a reputation for sending an occasional player to the NBA.
And the coaches don't fare too shabbily either. In 2005-06, the head coaches of the 65 Division I teams in Madness had an average maximum compensation of $959,486, with the top paid coach earning a guaranteed salary of $2.1 million and a maximum salary of $3.4 million. These figures exclude extensive perquisites, including free use of cars, housing subsidies, country-club memberships, access to private jets, exceptionally generous severance packages, handsome opportunities for outside income, and more.
These guys are making almost as much as NBA coaches, even though their teams' revenues generally are below one-tenth those in the senior circuit. The trick, of course, is that the players aren't allowed to be paid, so the coaches, in essence, get the value produced by their recruits. It doesn't hurt that college sports benefit from state subsidies and federal tax exemptions, and that they have no stockholders looking for quarterly profits.