Ohio State athletic department reports record revenue in 2019-20 fiscal year

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State's 2020 football opener against Nebraska on Oct. 24 was played before plenty of empty seats at Ohio Stadium because of COVID-19. The 2019 season, however, was unaffected by the pandemic and helped bolster OSU athletics' record revenue in fiscal year 2019-20.

Ohio State’s athletic department brought in a school-record $233.9 million during the 2019-20 fiscal year, according to its annual financial report submitted to the NCAA and obtained by The Dispatch through a public-records request.

It was an 11% increase from the previous year, when the department generated $210.5 million in revenue.

The immediate takeaway is that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic were felt less in the 2019-20 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020. For one thing, the 2019 football season, which ended with an OSU appearance in the College Football Playoff, was unaffected by the pandemic, which first disrupted college sports programs in March.

Athletic director Gene Smith said last month that the department currently is projecting a deficit “just south” of $70 million in the current 2020-21 fiscal year. The pandemic forced the Buckeyes to play football games this past fall at Ohio Stadium with no fans in attendance, wiping out its largest source of revenue.

Football ticket sales make up about a quarter of the department’s annual operating budget, plus additional game-day income from parking, concessions and merchandise. A late start to the season also resulted in a shortened schedule and fewer televised games. It’s unknown whether Big Ten schools will receive their full media rights revenue this year.

Audited financial figures for fiscal 2020-21 won’t be available until next winter, though the department began preparing for a revenue drop-off in September when it laid off 25 employees and instituted furloughs, among other cost-saving measures. Top-earning coaches took 5% pay cuts, saving about $1 million for the department.

Smith remarked last year that the pandemic’s fiscal challenges were greater than those from the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

In a statement released Thursday, he said he has been “pleased with how the athletic department and athletes showed resiliency in adjusting to a sudden, once-in-a-lifetime situation.”

Ohio State’s record fiscal 2019-20 revenue is the second-highest single-year amount reported by any athletic department during the 16 years that USA TODAY Sports has compiled data for NCAA Division I public schools, most recently in partnership with Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

However, it is the largest total under the NCAA’s current reporting system by about $10 million.

Not adjusting for inflation, Oklahoma State reported more than $241 million in the 2005-06 fiscal year, when oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens donated $165 million to his alma mater. Since then, the NCAA has changed its instructions to schools concerning how they should account for contributions they receive in a year.

Schools are now supposed to report the amount of contributions made to — and spent by — the athletics department during the reporting year.

Oklahoma State’s 2005-06 total likely would have been substantially lower using today's standards. Under the current setup, the largest single-year operating revenue total had been Texas’ $223.9 million for fiscal 2018-19. For fiscal 2019-20, Texas reported $220.8 million in operating revenue.

Largely resulting from its growing revenue, the Ohio State athletic department reported a surplus of about $18.7 million in fiscal 2019-20 after a budget deficit last year of about $10 million.

In 2019-20, Ohio State showed $233,871,740 in total operating revenues, compared with $210,548,239 in total operating expenses.

Sharp rises in donations, as well as sponsorships and licensing agreements, led to the revenue increase, the third straight fiscal year it has reported more than $200 million in revenue, a mark it first surpassed in 2017-18.

Contributions, which include those from individuals, corporations and other organizations, saw a 62% year-over-year increase, jumping from $29.7 million to $48.2 million in 2019-20. The university did not immediately respond to a request to explain the increase in donations.

Revenues from licensing, advertisement and sponsorships also rose, from $22.9 million in 2018-19 to $30.8 million.

Total ticket sales also increased to nearly $66 million, including $56.6 million from football, which included seven home games in the 2019 season.

Due to the cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament last March, Ohio State received a smaller distribution from the college sports governing body, falling from $5.5 million to just under $3 million.

But most of the men’s basketball season went off in 2019-20, allowing the Buckeyes to sell tickets to games at Value City Arena and generate similar media rights revenue.

The total operating expenses for the department went down by about $5.5 million, largely through a $2.4 million reduction in team travel. Most spring sports seasons were canceled in March, reducing costs for the remainder of the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Football bowl expenses were also down, by about $2.3 million. The Buckeyes played in a playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl after a Rose Bowl appearance the previous year.

The athletic department further saved about $800,000 in recruiting travel costs after the NCAA instituted a dead period, prohibiting coaches from traveling across the country to meet with high school prospects in person. The dead period remains in effect through April 15.

With a surplus, the department transferred almost $3.5 million to the university, an increase by $362,583 from last year.

USA TODAY reporter Steve Berkowitz contributed to this story.