US NCAA: Who pays for the runaway commercialization of university sport?

fieldofschemes-BurnsRatnerThe University of Louisville in the American state of Kentucky turns a record $26.9m annual profit on basketball, yet the city takes $9.8m a year loss. Last season Louisville won its first title since 1986 by beating Michigan, but ever since Rick Pitino’s Cardinals moved into their publicly funded $238 million KFC Yum Center (that’s right, as in the Kentucky Fried Chicken Center) three years ago – a state-of-the-art arena resplendent with executive seating, parking and alcohol-laden concessions – they have delighted their bankers and monopoly backers just as much as their fans.

By (Nov 5, 2013) – IF YOU LIKE infographics, you’re just going to love this one from ESPN the magazine (see below). Giant blue Rick Pitino monster! Brightly coloured geometric shapes! The number “$25,800,000″ in really big type! It’s the perfect simulacrum of actual information, equally comprehensible for ages 5 to 55!

There is one interesting tidbit in there, actually, which is that the University of Louisville makes a whole lot of money on basketball, bringing in $42.4 million a year in revenue, and spending $15.5 million on expenses. (None of which, needless to say, go toward paying the athletes that people are actually paying to see.) That’s an annual profit of $26.9 million, or $1.35 million per home game, as portrayed by a giant red circle that brings to mind the diameter of Jupiter.

For the missing piece of the puzzle, we need to turn to Insider Louisville, which notes that the university’s basketball players aren’t the only ones getting the short end of the stick here:

If you’re taxpayer in Jefferson County, you need to keep one thing in mind while you’re looking at the stunning numbers the University of Louisville basketball program puts up on the P&L sheet … you’re subsidizing the program out of your pocket with at least $9.8 million annually, or almost $20 million during the last two years.

It’s actually worse than that, because Louisville’s tax increment financing district — property and sales tax revenues that are being kicked back to pay for the arena — is costing taxpayers an additional $3.5 million last year. (It was actually supposed to be more than that, but tax revenues fell woefully short, leaving the city to make up the difference.) Even if you count that as new revenue the city wouldn’t have gotten without the arena, though, which is arguable (some of it is likely cannibalized from elsewhere in the city), that’s still almost $10 million a year that Louisville residents are handing over to the university so that it can rake in record sports profits. At least it’s a public university, so I guess you can look at this as a back-door way of fighting the trend of reduced higher-education funding? Um, maybe?

ESPN graphic.Louisville

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