Sawhney: Explaining the bowl finances

April 20, 2011, 1:31 a.m.

With several questions still swirling in the air following our investigative report on Stanford’s Orange Bowl finances, I decided to use my column this week to clarify the issues that the story raised.

As a quick refresher, the report was the result of a month-long investigation conducted by Ellora Israni, a Daily staff writer, and myself. The goal of the story was to ascertain how much money Stanford gained or lost from participating in the Orange Bowl and to put that figure into the context of what other schools made or lost from their BCS games. The final result, in a nutshell, was that Stanford broke even on the Orange Bowl (according to the athletic department), placing it right in the middle in terms of profit among the rest of the BCS teams. We also noted that Stanford declined to provide financial documentation, so the figure of zero net income was not independently verified.

Through feedback from individual readers, comments on our website and comments from a post on ESPN’s Pac-10 blog that extracted the profit and loss figures for BCS teams from our story, I gathered that readers primarily desired clarification on two topics. First, it was vague at best what exactly the term “unsold tickets” referred to. As many Oregon fans pointed out, the BCS National Championship Game was filled to the rafters with fans, with resale websites and brokers selling tickets for well above their face values. However, we reported (and later corroborated by publishing Oregon’s bowl expense report) that the Ducks paid $555,575 to absorb 1,761 tickets.

Second, to clear any uncertainty, I will detail the process we went through in making our calculations of the profit and loss figures that we published for the eight public schools that participated in the BCS, last year’s Orange Bowl participants and the Pac-10’s two non-BCS bowl teams.

Let’s start with the tickets that went “unsold” or were “absorbed” by individual schools. In our report, we did not intend for the term “unsold” to mean that the university in question tried to sell those tickets on the open market and were unable to find buyers. Rather, it means simply that the school did not sell a certain quantity of tickets. Indeed, some of those tickets did go unsold because the school could not find buyers—having attended the Orange Bowl in person, I know that there were large sections of empty seats at that game.

However, the quantity of “unsold” tickets also includes the tickets that a school kept for its own use. Under current BCS bowl contracts, schools do not get any free tickets; they must pay for every single one that is not sold to a buyer, including the ones they choose not to sell. In Oregon’s case, I am fairly confident that the 1,761 unsold tickets were kept by the school for its own uses, such as the marching band, prominent administrators and alumni and family members of the players (to name a few). Unfortunately for Oregon, it had to pay for the privilege of using these seats, and it ultimately cost it a chance to make a profit on playing in the national title game.

As far as calculating profit and loss figures, we gathered data on the 12 teams we published financial data for in three ways: through our own open-records requests, financial documents obtained from student newspapers at other universities and published news reports from professional media outlets that included profit or loss figures.

In each case, the published profit figure was calculated by taking the school’s reported revenue (listed on the top of the first page of their NCAA expense report) and subtracting from that figure its expenses (listed on the bottom of the first page of that report). To get the final number, we added back in any tickets absorbed by a school’s conference, so that the final figure reflected only the tickets that individual schools had to directly pay for themselves.

I hope that this explanation clears up any lingering doubts surrounding what we published on Monday. Anyone desiring further clarification is welcome to email me, and I will do my best to respond to all inquiries in a prompt and satisfactory manner.


Kabir Sawhney is currently a desk editor for the News section. He served as the Managing Editor of Sports last volume.

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