Ohio State athletic department reports $63.6 million deficit in 2021 fiscal year

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch
Spectators weren't permitted at Ohio State football games in 2020, and year-over-year ticket revenue plunged from $56.6 million to $25,614.

A football season altered by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 has left Ohio State’s athletic department with a deficit of tens of millions of dollars.

The department reported an operating shortfall of $63.6 million during the 2021 fiscal year, according to an annual statement submitted to the NCAA and obtained by The Dispatch through a public records request. It showed $106.9 million in total operating revenues and $170.6 million in total operating expenses over the period covering July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

In each of the three previous fiscal years, Ohio State had reported total revenues surpassing $200 million, including as much as $233.9 million in 2019-20 that marked a record for the school and made it the second-highest earning department in the country, according to data compiled by USA TODAY Sports.

The latest financial hit was expected. Amid the height of the pandemic, no spectators were permitted at games at Ohio Stadium, part of a restriction on fan attendance across the Big Ten. Year-over-year football ticket revenue plunged from $56.6 million to a fraction of that number: $25,614.

Ticket sales for football games have long served as the biggest money-maker for the department, capitalizing on a stadium that can pack in more than 100,000.  

Along with other schools in the conference, the Buckeyes were also left with a reduced slate of games in 2020.

Following the postponement of the fall football season, Ohio State did not open until late October and played only five games in the regular season after three were later canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks among teams.

The shortened schedule led to a decrease in overall media-rights revenue. After bringing in $46.8 million in the previous fiscal year, it recorded $40.6 million.

Revenue from football totaled $42 million, down from $115.5 million during the 2020 fiscal year.

The absence of fans for men's basketball games at Value City Arena was further significant, wiping away more millions. Over the 2019-20 season, OSU had generated $6 million in ticket sales. 

Anticipating the financial strain last spring, the athletic department projected a budget deficit of around $50 million, putting together the forecast from the 2021 fiscal year in a document for the board of trustees.

In a news release, the school said the department is looking at taking out an interest-bearing loan from the university to cover the deficit, a decision that will be made by the end of this year, but it did not mention how it was currently covering the losses. Early in the pandemic, athletics officials had raised the possibility of relying on a loan for assistance.

The self-sustaining department does not receive funding from the state or school, nor student fees.

Ohio State also said Tuesday that its actual deficit is about $41 million, as the total expenses for the 2021 fiscal year included a one-time $20 million payment that was made to reduce capital loan balances on two recently built athletics facilities, along with future interest.

“This was a most challenging year for our department and for everyone, and I am so proud of our student-athletes, our coaches and our support staff who continued to deliver at a championship level,” athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement. “Despite the difficulties we all faced working through the pandemic, we preserved our commitment to our student-athletes and the sports they love.”

Ohio State maintained all of its 36 varsity sports, pursuing other cost-cutting measures instead of dropping any of the teams.

In September 2020, it eliminated 25 full-time positions and implemented furloughs and pay cuts.

The department also sought to cut down on travel expenses. Though also due to playing in fewer games, team travel expenses fell to $4.9 million after it had totaled $10 million a year earlier.

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at jkaufman@dispatch.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.

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