As the football program has stabilized, so too has the athletic department’s financial outlook.
Before offering a glimpse of his vision for the future of Washington athletics, Scott Woodward took a step back.
Make that many agonizing steps back, all the way to 2008. You haven’t forgotten, have you?
Woodward hasn’t. He remembers when, as a first-year athletic director desperately seeking help to remake an 0-12 program, he couldn’t even get Chris Petersen on the phone.
“Not a sniff,” Woodward said.
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Then he takes a few steps forward, to December 2013: Woodward boarded a chartered plane at Boeing Field with senior AD Jen Cohen, bound for Boise. A few hours later: an agreement with Petersen is in place, and a sudden realization hits Woodward on the flight back to Seattle.
“Expectations,” he recalls thinking, “are going to be through the roof.”
And so they are.
Which is why, as the Huskies get set for their season opener Friday against Petersen’s old team, and as the coach and the athletic director head back to Boise together with a UW team still in the early stages of a dramatic rebuild, Woodward can confidently raise the stakes even higher.
The Huskies have been to four consecutive bowl games, and finished 8-6 in Petersen’s first season in Seattle last year. Woodward wants more.
“The minimum standard is postseason play,” he said. “And the next goal for us is, hey, we’ve gotten the football program off the mat from a 0-fer season now to making bowl appearances regularly.”
He paused for just a moment to consider that next step.
“Now,” he said, “it’s time to go to elite bowls and hopefully get to the playoffs. That’s where our goals are set and where we need to get.”
The resources are in place. That was a major piece that helped lure Petersen away.
Two years ago, Petersen was on hand for the debut of the new $282 million Husky Stadium. His Broncos lost 38-6 that day, Petersen’s worst defeat in eight years as the Boise State coach. A few months later, after Steve Sarkisian left for USC, Petersen finally took a call from Woodward.
“The commitment to being great was shown … and I think he saw that,” Woodward said.
As the football program has stabilized, so too has the athletic department’s financial outlook. In Woodward’s first year as AD, the department eliminated both swimming programs and laid off 13 staffers to help offset a $2.8 million shortfall.
Seven years later, significant steps forward: The 2015-16 AD budget includes just under $2.2 million in new expenses for scholarship athletes as part of what Woodward called the “liberalization” of NCAA rules.
Notably, the budget bump includes a little more than $1 million alone in extra food for student-athletes — essentially, one additional meal and one additional snack per student-athlete per day.
In addition, an estimated $830,000 will be spent over the next year on a cost-of-attendance increase (COA), new NCAA legislation approved in January that covers student-athlete expenses like transportation and other personal items (things above tuition, room and board and books covered by a traditional scholarship). UW will spend an average of $2,679 per scholarship athlete on the COA increase, a fixed amount set by the university.
Robert Sasaki, the athletic department’s chief financial officer, said the $2.2 million will be covered by “additional revenue upside” projected in the budget.
Petersen and Woodward have both expressed support of the new initiatives.
“We’ve been walking the walk around here,” Woodward said. “We need to continue to improve and do more things for our student-athletes. I think it’s a great thing.”
For the third year in a row, the athletic department’s revenue is projected to exceed $100 million. In 2014-15, UW generated $107.2 million in athletic department revenue, according to preliminary records. Washington took in about $35 million in distributions from the Pac-12 and the NCAA, much of that from the conference’s television rights. UW reported expenses of $87.7 million and paid $19.5 million in debt services, most of that to help pay off Husky Stadium.
While UW’s financial outlook has improved greatly since Woodward took over in 2008, challenges remain.
The athletic department is expected to receive $1.9 million in subsidies from the general university fund, which Woodward says is the lowest subsidy of any athletic department in the Pac-12. There’s no promise the athletic department will even get that much after this year, Sasaki said.
A nationwide trend that will continue to have an affect on UW’s budget is decreasing ticket sales. The Pac-12’s massive, 12-year, $3 billion broadcasting deal with ESPN and FOX from 2011 has presented a paradox for UW and its counterparts: While the new TV money has helped schools invest heavily in facilities and big-name coaches, the improved home experience — coupled with UW’s modest success in football and basketball — has kept more and more fans from attending games in person.
New Husky Stadium, with a capacity of 70,138, drew an average of 64,508 fans for seven home games in 2014. The Huskies didn’t have a single sellout last year, and season-ticket sales are down. Earlier this month, UW reported 39,357 season-tickets sold (not counting students), compared to about 44,000 in mid-August last year.
Woodward says the department is thinking “outside the box” to improve the experience for fans. His favorite example is the Phoenix Open golf tournament, which draws the largest crowds on the PGA Tour in part because it also runs a fashion show as part of the tournament.
A fashion show might not make sense for a football game, but it’s things of that nature Woodward says is worth considering.
“Maybe we can start thinking of things for children and for families that make sense,” he said. “We’re going to have to be smart about how we do it, but not alienate our traditionalists.”
The Huskies have made strides in Woodward’s tenure. Still, he says there’s more ground to make up. Woodward wants more.
“We’ve got big steps to take,” he said.
|UW’s athletic department budget breakdown|
|For the third year in a row, UW’s athletic department’s revenue is projected to exceed $100 million. A look at where the money comes from, and where it’s spent. Numbers are in millions of dollars:|
|Total operating revenue||100.3||107.2|
|Total operating expense||86.1||87.7|
|Day of game||7.2||5.7|
|Net operating income||14.2||19.5|
|Net operating income (with debt service)||-0.4||2.0|
|Source: UW athletic department. *2014-15 numbers are preliminary|