How the Arizona Wildcats Made the College World Series…and Money
It has been quite a season for the University of Arizona baseball team. Winning the most games of any Wildcats baseball team for a single season since 1989, the Wildcats punched their ticket to Omaha, NE and the College World Series after beating St. John’s University in the NCAA Super Regional tournament.
While the Wildcats’ road back to Omaha is impressive, perhaps what is more interesting about the team’s season is the increase in revenue enjoyed by the the University of Arizona baseball program. While the team’s on-field success drove interest in the program, the increase in revenue was largely generated by the team’s move from its previous on-campus home of 44-years, Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium, to the off-campus location of Hi Corbett Field.
Given the history that the Wildcats created while playing at Jerry Kindall Field, along the field’s convenient on-campus location, there was some initial resistance from Wildcats baseball fans regarding the move. However, University of Arizona Director of Athletics, Greg Byrne, knew that the move to the former Spring Training facility of the Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies would bring great things to the team and the Arizona athletics department.
“When we did this, our thought was that there was a community connection with Hi Corbett. It was a dramatic facility improvement for our team, as we have a great clubhouse, locker room and training facilities. We felt that if we could re-engage Tucson with our baseball program, it would have a tremendous impact for us this year and many years to come,” Byrne said.
Byrne’s intuition about the success that moving to Hi Corbett Field could bring the baseball program was correct. The athletics department invested $350,000.00 to update the field’s clubhouse and provide it with University of Arizona paint and banners. After those measures, Hi Corbett was open for business and fears that fans may not attend games at an off-campus location were quickly quashed.
For starters, ticket revenue for the baseball team this season was five-times that of what it was last year. In 2011, Arizona baseball brought in $69,000.00 worth of ticket revenue. This season, the baseball team brought in just shy of $350,000.00 in ticket revenue, which does not include revenue for tickets sold during the NCAA Regional tournament or NCAA Super Regional tournament. Arizona baseball games were a hit with fans this season, as the team has brought in an average home attendance of 2,460. Last season, the average attendance for games was just over 1,000. The popularity of watching the Arizona baseball team play at Hi Corbett Field is further demonstrated by the fact that during one weekend series against Arizona rival ASU, the baseball team was able to bring in ticket revenues of $98,500.00. The ticket revenue that Arizona baseball was able to generate during one weekend series was nearly $30,000.00 more than it generated all last season.
Along with obtaining revenue from ticket sales, Arizona’s athletic department also receives revenues from concession sales at the baseball games. One luxury the athletics department has found in its move to Hi Corbett, is the ability to sell beer at baseball games. This year, $360,000.00 worth of concessions, including beer, were sold at Arizona baseball games. Of that gross number, the Arizona athletics department received $160,000.00 from Hi Corbett’s concessionaire. Although beer sales accounted for a significant portion of the concession gross receipts, Byrne is quick to note that he does not believe beer sales are driving ticket sales. “The nice thing, is that for our NCAA Regional game, we had 5,400 people at the game and we didn’t sell beer. They came to support Arizona baseball; not for the amenity of beer,” said Byrne.
Arizona’s move to Hi Corbett has also presented the school’s athletic department with another way to generate revenue: Hosting NCAA postseason baseball games. For the first time in 20 years, the Wildcats hosted the NCAA Regional baseball tournament. Additionally, Arizona hosted its first-ever NCAA Super Regional baseball tournament. To host these tournaments, the athletics department placed bids with the NCAA. The starting bid for the NCAA Regional tournament was $35,000.00, while the bid for the NCAA Super Regional is $50,000.00. Byrne noted that the Arizona athletics department exceeded the bid amount for the NCAA Super Regional tournament. Although Arizona spent money to bring these tournaments to Tucson, it gets to keep ticket sales revenue exceeding the bid amount. Additionally, the athletics department gets to keep all concession revenues from the tournaments. On the first day of the NCAA Regional tournament, $24,000.00 worth of concessions were sold.
For the first time since 2004, the Arizona Wildcats baseball team took the field in Omaha to compete for the College World Series. While the team’s success is much to celebrate, the financial turn-around of the program that was sparked by the team’s play and move to Hi Corbett is another cause for celebration. Last year, the baseball team lost revenues of $816,000.00. This year, Byrne expects the team’s net loss in revenues to be closer to $650,000.00. In the next five years, Byrne expects the teams net losses to be under $500,000.00. Although these numbers still represent net losses, in the grand scheme of things, it is a major win for the University of Arizona baseball program.