The University of Dayton’s basketball team is flying high on the court and off, competing with -- and out earning -- powerhouses with bigger athletic programs.
Even though it spends less on its program than any other school remaining in college basketball’s national tournament, Dayton ranked eighth in profit among the 16 teams that made it to the second weekend of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, according to data schools submit to the U.S. Department of Education.
Athletic Director Tim Wabler credits the school’s fans -- who contribute $3.3 million annually in required season ticket donations and have kept the program’s attendance among the country’s top 30 for the past 17 years. Dayton, a Catholic university with an undergraduate enrollment of 8,000, brings in 84 percent more men’s basketball revenue than three-time tournament champion University of Connecticut, with about half the expenses.
“Flyers fans have really always been there for this team,” Wabler said in a telephone interview. “In a lot of ways, with this year’s success they are being rewarded for their longstanding support.”
Dayton had advanced to the round of 16 with upsets of sixth-seeded Ohio State and No. 3 Syracuse, earning congratulations on Twitter from U.S. President Barack Obama. After the second win, university president Dan Curran crowd-surfed through a mob celebrating in Dayton, and fans gathered the following morning at 3:30 a.m. to welcome the team bus when it returned to campus.
Dayton’s basketball team generated $11.3 million in revenue in fiscal 2013, against $3.9 million in expenses, according to the documents on the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis website. The program has returned $2.72 in revenue for every dollar it spent on men’s basketball over the past five years, trailing only Ohio State, Arizona, North Carolina and Louisville in college basketball’s top division.
Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist who wrote the book “Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports,” said Dayton’s location in the central U.S. -- what Wabler called “basketball country” -- as well as marketing and avid fans boost revenue. He also said the school’s lack of top-division football may help.
“It concentrates attention and energy on basketball,” Zimbalist said in a telephone interview.
The Dayton basketball team accounted for about half of the athletic department’s $23 million revenue in fiscal 2013. The football team, which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision, brought in $197,346 in revenue against $1 million in expenses. The department as a whole broke even.
Flyers coach Archie Miller, who this week received a contract extension through 2019, said after the team’s victory against Syracuse that the support of the Dayton athletic department and its fans matched the country’s most prominent programs.
“If you’re a player at our place, you experience the same stuff that you can experience at a Syracuse in terms of the way they’re cared about and treated,” said Miller, 35.
Dayton requires a donation to the basketball program from anyone buying one of the roughly 6,000 season tickets in the lower portion of University of Dayton Arena. The donations amount to $3.3 million in annual revenue, according to Wabler. Combine that with the roughly $3.5 million the program receives from ticket sales, and fans getting in the door account for more than half the program’s revenue total.
“The real key for us is that there’s such a demand for arena seating that it gave us that opportunity,” Wabler said.
The program also receives more than $2 million in annual corporate sponsorships at the 13,455-seat arena, according to Wabler. The school owns the arena, which includes eight suites and lounges.
Defending NCAA champion Louisville, which faces Kentucky tonight, had $42.4 million in revenue in 2013, $16.4 million more than the next closest program. A majority of that revenue comes from ticket sales at the KFC Yum! Center and donations which, like Dayton, includes requirements tied to its 71 suites and premium seating.
“So Dayton’s $11 million in revenue is certainly healthy, but it doesn’t make them an outlier in terms of the best basketball schools in the country,” said Zimbalist, who cautioned that the education department’s data doesn’t have a standard accounting system.
Dayton, which plays in the Atlantic 10 Conference, has reached the NCAA tournament final once, in 1967, when it lost to UCLA. The team last reached the round of eight in 1984.
Outside of Dayton, Flyers fans have a reputation among invitational tournaments as a passionate group that follows the team to away games. Dayton played in the Maui Invitational last November, and will travel to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off next season.
“The Dayton fans were out in full force, dressed in red and blue, they had painted faces and oversized photo faces of players and coach Miller, and that may be the first time we’ve ever seen that in Maui,” said Tom Valdiserri, executive vice president at KemperLesnik, which manages the Maui Invitational. “If you had to describe their fans I would use words like classy, passionate, proud and enthusiastic.”
They’ve shown the passion digitally as well. According to data gathered by social media analytics company Simply Measured Inc., the Flyers have 59,788 mentions on Twitter since the brackets were announced, 72 percent more than the next closest tournament team (Kentucky at 34,715).
Dayton’s arena has hosted the NCAA tournament’s four-game opening round for each of the past four years. The athletic department rents the venue to the NCAA and receives about $100,000 annually for it, according to athletics spokesman Doug Hauschild. That total is not counted in the school’s basketball revenue.
That’s just one example of how the basketball fans are helping other parts of the Dayton program. Wabler said that since the mid-1990s, all of the athletic department’s competition and practice facilities are either new or completely renovated -- a total cost of more than $35 million funded by donors and basketball success.
Dayton at 75/1 had the longest title odds of the final 16 tournament teams, according to Bovada.lv. Wabler said four more Flyers wins, culminating in a national championship in Arlington, Texas, on April 7, would probably mean more financial stability for years to come.
“For men’s basketball and the rest of our programs,” he said.
Men’s Basketball Finances For Round of 16 Teams (From U.S. Department of Education website, fiscal year ended June 2013) Program Basketball Expenses Basketball Revenue Dayton $3.98 million $11.30 million Florida $8.22 million $13.39 million UCLA $12.72 million $12.37 million Virginia $6.56 million $7.66 million Arizona $7.81 million $24.94 million Wisconsin $6.52 million $19.23 million Kentucky $13.67 million $23.20 million Louisville $15.65 million $42.40 million UConn $7.29 million $6.15 million Tennessee $4.86 million $13.32 million Michigan $6.49 million $14.80 million Iowa State $5.29 million $8.61 million San Diego St. $5.61 million $6.50 million Baylor $7.25 million $7.49 million Michigan St. $9.45 million $18.50 million Stanford $4.36 million $5.41 million Total $125.75 million $235.26 million
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