LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky football has made tremendous strides in facility upgrades in recent years, and last fall brought an on-field breakthrough — the program’s first bowl game since 2010 — but the Wildcats still lag well behind the top half of the SEC when it comes to cash.
The Baton Rouge Advocate recently obtained football revenue reports for 13 of the 14 SEC schools for the 2015-16 school year. Vanderbilt, a private institution, wasn’t required to file. Kentucky ranked 11th in the SEC in revenue ahead of only Mississippi State and Missouri.
SEC Country obtained all seven of Kentucky’s athletic revenue and expense reports since 2010 to take a closer look. Schools are required to self-file their annual reports to the NCAA.
Kentucky has averaged just shy of $18 million annually in football profit since 2010. While revenue has gradually increased, expenses have grown at a similar rate, keeping the bottom line virtually flat despite a dip in 2013.
When subtracting expenses from revenue, Kentucky’s highest profit margin since the turn of the decade was $20.4 million in 2011. More than $34 million was made that year with $13.6 million worth of expenses.
Kentucky’s revenue from the most recent report in 2016 was $39.7 million with $18.6 million in profit after expenses were subtracted.
Tennessee led the way in 2016 with $109.6 million in revenue, according to The Advocate’s report. The Vols were followed by Alabama and Texas A&M. All seven schools in the top half of the conference hauled in $79.9 million or more in revenue — more than twice Kentucky’s 2016 number.
The split between the top SEC programs and schools like Kentucky in the bottom seven tells of a monetary gap, but there’s a performance correlation. The schools in the top half are perennial powers: Tennessee, Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Florida. These seven schools have accounted for every conference title since the SEC Championship Game was born in 1992.
Programs like Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Missouri have to overcome a dollar discrepancy to compete.
“The SEC is the most competitive league in America in all facets and I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we compare favorably on a national level in terms of revenue,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement to SEC Country. “Tickets and per-seat donations are the foundation of the resources that go into building our football program and we are grateful for the loyalty of our incredible fans.”
Kentucky’s ticket sales revenue hit a seven-year high in 2016 with $16.4 million in revenue. But the number shrinks when placed in a league-wide context. Kentucky ranked 11th in the SEC in ticket sales for the most recent reporting year, according to the Advocate. Texas A&M hauled in $41.7 million in ticket revenue — a $25 million margin over Kentucky.
Kentucky started a campaign on July 21 with a goal to sell 40,000 season tickets. Only 510 season tickets were sold between July 19 and Aug. 7. As of last Monday, 32,885 season tickets have been sold, and the goal appears well out of reach. Ticket sales are the highest revenue stream outside of NCAA and SEC distributions.
“We firmly believe that revenue will grow with our program, but in the meantime we have been aggressively investing in its development, such as the renovation of the stadium, construction of the new football training center and in the personnel and services that support our students,” Barnhart said in a statement. “We have been able to do so because we are uniquely positioned with two programs — football and men’s basketball — that serve as breadwinners for our department and because we have maximized other revenue streams, namely through our multimedia rights agreement and the generosity of donors. Our goal is what it has always been: competing for championships in our conference.”
But the profit gap between Alabama, a program competing for championships, and a school like Kentucky is $30 million annually.
*All yearly figures in this story are tied to football seasons in the prior calendar year, because each academic year spans parts of two years. For example: The 2016 revenue report includes information on the 2015 football season.
Kentucky’s annual revenue and expenses since 2010