By Bill Koch
With a 2-5 record, the University of Cincinnati football team has been a disappointment on the field this season. But from a financial standpoint, the Bearcats are having one of their most successful years.
For the first time in at least 20 years, UC's football program will turn a profit this season. Based on ticket revenue alone, football will take in roughly $600,000 above operating expenses, athletic director Bob Goin said.
That's a welcome development for a program that, until recently, has been a financial drain on the athletic department.
"It's encouraging," Goin said. "But I don't want you to think we are out of the woods."
Goin acknowledges that the UC-Ohio State game, which attracted a sellout crowd of 66,319 to Paul Brown Stadium, is largely responsible for the surplus, but even without that game, football still would have broken even.
"When we take that game away, hopefully in years to come we can continue to make football pay for itself and even start adding some toward the non-revenue sports," Goin said. "I think that's a possibility if we stay in that 25,000-attendance range."
UC is averaging 38,031 in four games this year, well above the school attendance record set in 1996, when the Bearcats attracted 145,532 fans to six home games. Subtracting the Ohio State attendance, UC is averaging 28,600 fans for its three games at on-campus Nippert Stadium, surpassing 1996's average of 24,255.
About 20,000 tickets have been distributed for Saturday's homecoming game against Memphis, said Tom Hathaway, the school's assistant athletic director/media relations. That doesn't include student tickets. Two home games remain after that - Nov. 16 against Houston and Nov. 30 against UAB.
This is the 10th anniversary of the $10.1 million renovation and expansion of Nippert Stadium, which increased seating capacity from 26,592 to 35,000.
At the time of the renovation, there was a movement on campus calling for the abolition of football because of its recent losing history and small crowds.
But that outcry has faded in recent years as the Bearcats have improved on the field and at the gate.
"It's cyclical," said Greg Hand, UC's director of public relations. "Once a decade, someone among the faculty suggests saving money by abolishing football, a committee is established, and on investigation they learn that in the grand scheme of things, the athletic budget of this university is minuscule."
Goin says he understands the faculty's concern.
"You're going to hear that," he said. "I appreciate their position. If we didn't have football, we wouldn't have some expenses, but we wouldn't have some revenues, either. I've yet to meet an AD or a (university) president, including our neighbor, Xavier, that doesn't regret the decision to give up football.
"The games we're playing here, there's some quality of life that students pick because of that. It doesn't have to be Oklahoma or Florida State."
Football's financial situation has been enhanced by a directive requiring season-ticket buyers for UC's basketball team to also purchase season football tickets. This year, UC sold approximately 12,000 season football tickets. Goin said his goal is 23,000 to 25,000.
Winning helps, too. Thanks to their affiliation with Conference USA, the Bearcats have played in consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history.
"We've got an atmosphere that's developing at Nippert Stadium," Goin said.
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