It's the second year in a row UW has reported a budget deficit, with more deficits predicted in 2017 and 2019.
The rising costs for investing in student-athletes coupled with declining attendance at Husky Stadium has led to a projected deficit of $14.8 million for the University of Washington athletic department in the 2015-16 fiscal-year budget.
The 2016 deficit will be covered by the athletic department’s reserve fund, which includes more than $30 million, according to sources with knowledge of UW’s finances.
This is the second year in a row — and eighth time in the past 25 years — UW has projected a deficit in athletics. The department had a loss of $863,136 for the 2014-15 fiscal year. That 2015 deficit would have been greater if not for a one-time advance payment of $7.3 million that UW received from the Pac-12 Conference as part of a new multimedia rights agreement.
Jennifer Cohen, introduced as UW’s new athletic director last week, said in an interview Friday that the triple-whammy of added student-athlete welfare costs, plus a 15-percent, two-year decline in ticket sales plus $17.5 million in debt payments for new facilities created “the perfect storm” to put the budget deep in the red.
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“We’ve never had this kind of debt before around here,” she said.
Since she took over in January as interim athletic director following Scott Woodward’s abrupt departure for Texas A&M, Cohen said she had spent much of her time working on budget issues. She has expressed optimism that the Huskies’ resurgent football program will lead to sellouts at Husky Stadium and help boost the department’s bottom line.
“There is a lot of unpredictability,” she said of projecting future budgets, “but the revenue in Husky Stadium is a huge factor here in our ability to find a long-term solution, no doubt about it.”
UW released the athletic department’s financial information on Friday ahead of next week’s meeting with the Board of Regents, which will be asked to approve the AD’s three-year financial plan.
UW athletics is also projecting a budget deficit for 2017 and 2019, with an expected surplus in 2018. The athletic department says its reserve fund — now with a healthy balance of more than $30 million — could dwindle to less than $10 million by 2019 if new revenue projections are not met.
The department’s financial outlook changed considerably after the renovation of Husky Stadium, a $282 million project completed in 2013. That same year, the AD posted a profit of $8.9 million, making it at the time one of just two dozen Division 1 athletic departments in the nation that was able to cover its own expenses.
Since then, the athletic department reported a jump in total revenue from $85.1 million in fiscal-year 2013 to $109.7 in 2015. Over that same period, expenses rose from $76.2 million to $90.3 million — with $95.8 million in estimated 2016 expenses.
Those expenses don’t include the annual debt services payments — which were $17.5 million in 2015 — for Husky Stadium and the new Husky Ballpark for baseball (completed in 2014).
Football ticket sales at the new stadium have also fallen short of projections. Last fall, Husky Stadium drew an average of 61,919 fans, down from 64,508 in 2014 and 68,769 in 2013. Husky Stadium has not had a sellout since the 2013 Apple Cup.
Ticket revenues across all UW sports brought in $28.8 million in 2014; for 2016, that figure has fallen to an estimated $24.5 million.
Washington is also spending about $3 million, Cohen said, to pay for new NCAA reforms for student-athletes, including a full-cost-of-attendance stipend and more meals.
“The landscape of college athletics is so dynamic right now, and the impact we’ve had here is no different than what we’ve seen at other institutions,” Cohen said. “Over the last few years, as NCAA reform has come to fruition and we’ve had the ability — and in some cases the requirement — to invest in our student-athletes, we’ve done it. And we’ve done it because it’s the right thing to do.”
As part of a three-year plan to build financial stability, Cohen said $2 million will be cut from the budget next year, the cuts largely coming from salaries and travel budgets. The larger goal, she said, is to be more “prudent and efficient” with spending in general.
She also said the athletic department is set to launch a new fundraising campaign in October, which the department projects to bring in $1.7 million in new revenue annually.
UW isn’t the only athletic department working through budget issues. Many Pac-12 schools, including Washington State, invested heavily in facilities upgrades and more high-profile coaches after the Pac-12 agreed to a landmark $3 billion TV deal in 2011 — and those costs are starting to add up.
In 2014 and 2015, Washington State reported a deficit of $13 million each year in athletics.
UW athletics isn’t the only department on campus with budget issues.
Two months ago, the UW’s regents approved a plan to erase a $29 million deficit at the school of dentistry. The school’s dean, Joel Berg, said the deficit is largely the result of the UW’s role as a safety net for patients on Medicaid, the escalating cost of a dental education, and the absorption of a 10 percent budget cut during the recession.
But some faculty say Berg’s overly optimistic projections of the number of patients that would go to the new Center for Pediatric Dentistry is one of the main reasons for the deficit. They have rejected the financial recovery plan.
The College of Arts and Sciences is also trying to backfill a $500,000 deficit by cutting teaching assistant positions this fall. Over the long term, the college — where enrollments are falling in the social sciences — may need to cut about $14 million out of its budget, said its dean, Robert Stacey.
— Seattle Times higher education reporter Katherine Long contributed to this report.