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July 26, 2013
'A rising Tide lifts all boats'
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TUSCALOOSA | Bill Battle is only a few months into his tenure as the University of Alabama's athletics director, but he quickly discovered that running an athletic department isn't exactly running a business.
Battle studied UA's athletic budget and realized collegiate athletics has an unbalanced ledger.
"This is an interesting business if you can call it a business, which I guess it is," said Battle, 71, who was hired in March to replace the late Mal Moore, who was at the time hospitalized with a pulmonary condition. "It's like running a company that has 21 divisions and two of them are profitable."
The windfall from football and men's basketball, the only sports with incomes that exceed expenses, fund the other sports - but the model isn't quite as simple as that.
"About half your revenue comes from the business of sports and event management, which I guess is the business side of our business," Battle said. "Most of the other half comes from contributions and donations and Tide Pride and so forth, which is different from any business I've ever been in. That has been interesting."
In the black
"My new favorite saying is, 'A rising Tide lifts all boats,'" Battle said. "What Coach Saban has done since he's come here is to rise the tide level that has helped lift the athletic department and the university as well."
Alabama's athletic budget, like the tide, has ebbs and flows. It has fluctuated over the past six years, topping out with a profit of more than $31.5 million in 2010 - reflecting an increase of more than $11 million in endowment and investment income from the previous year as well as an increase of more than $6 million in payouts from the Southeastern Conference and NCAA and a rise of more than $4 million in contributions - and hitting a low point with a profit of just under $400,000 in 2008, when expenses soared to above $123 million.
Men's basketball generated nearly $12 million in revenue last season. "Football and men's basketball are the two profitable sports from ticket sales and television, so we need to keep that healthy," Battle said.
Battle believes revenues can be increased, but doesn't see anything in the near future that will provide a major impact on the revenue side of the budget.
"I don't see windfalls out there right now," he said, "but what I do see are the revenue streams that we have and I think we can improve those. We're trying to study and figure out how to do that better." Getting more out of the other sports will also be an emphasis.
"I think we've got some really cool coaches and some really cool sports where there are a lot of empty seats at their games," Battle said. "Some of them don't charge admission. We'll work hard at trying to fill up those venues and get people excited about the sports experience in all of our sports, and we want to maximize the marketing opportunities around those."
Upgrades in facilities from football to track to tennis in recent years also come at a cost. In the 2012 fiscal year, debt service and maintenance on athletic facilities topped $21.5 million. There is also the cost of scholarships for more than 400 student-athletes at a cost of $20,511 for in-state students and $33,811 for those coming from other states.
"The cost of scholarships was a little bit of a surprise to me," Battle said. "It's pretty expensive to go to college anymore and tuition is a pretty significant expense that takes a good bit of the budget.
"I knew there had been a lot of building going on in the past and I suspected there was a pretty significant debt service in place, and there is."
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.