February 25, 2024

Bring on that Big Ten cash.

UCLA’s approaching revenue stream can’t arrive fast enough after the school’s athletic department posted a deficit of $36.6 million for the 2023 fiscal year, the fifth consecutive year that the Bruins have run a shortfall stretching into 10 figures.

The debt figures have gone from $18.9 million in 2019 to $21.7 million in 2020 to $62.5 million in 2021 to $28 million in 2022, reflecting sustained financial struggles before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the recent run of red, UCLA’s athletic department had not experienced a budget shortfall since being $164,000 in the hole in 2004.

“Like other athletic departments, financial challenges remain as a result of the pandemic which impacted revenue streams such as sponsorships and media rights,” a UCLA athletic department spokesperson said in a statement. “In this evolving college landscape, we have continued to emphasize putting our student-athletes first. This includes increasing our investments in student-athlete focused areas including mental health, team travel, nutrition and academic awards. We will always put our student-athletes first and provide a world-class holistic athletic and academic experience.”

Happier times could be near. Once UCLA moves to the Big Ten in August, it will receive an estimated $65 million to $75 million in annual media rights payments — far outpacing what it would have made by remaining alongside USC as part of an intact Pac-12 — plus untold millions from conference disbursements as part of the Big Ten’s College Football Playoff and NCAA tournament appearances.

That bottom-line boost will be offset somewhat by UCLA spending as much as $10.32 million a year to enhance support in nutrition, mental health and academic tutoring along with more chartered flights to reduce time away from school while traveling to the Midwest and the East Coast. UCLA already increased spending on additional mental health support by about $600,000 in the latest fiscal year.

UCLA might also soon have to pay the so-called “Berkeley Tax,” an annual fee imposed by the University of California regents estimated to be between $2 million and $10 million that goes to sister school Cal for being left behind as part of the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten. Cal will join the Atlantic Coast Conference alongside Stanford next school year while receiving a heavily reduced portion of media rights distributions.

The recent settlement between the departing Pac-12 schools and holdovers Oregon State and Washington State will force the Bruins to give up an undisclosed portion of conference revenue distributions for the balance of this school year. That financial setback will not be felt until next year’s budget.

While the Bruins received just $2,060,000 in student fees and direct institutional support as part of their latest fiscal budget, the university did absolve the athletic department of roughly $10 million in service debt on athletic facilities.

As usual, the biggest cash outlays went for coaching salaries ($30.6 million), staff and administrative salaries ($23.6 million) and athletics student aid ($16.8 million). Football player meals totaled $3.5 million, up slightly from $3.2 million the previous year. UCLA also paid $1.5 million to athletes as part of the Alston awards recognizing academic achievement.

UCLA’s $25.4 million in media rights revenue reflected an undisclosed withholding stemming from the Pac-12’s mismanagement of its payments to Comcast. The Bruins will take another hit based on that same issue in their next fiscal report.

Football ticket sales generated $11.6 million in revenue, up from $10.6 million the previous year, thanks in part to an eight-game home schedule for the 2022 season. The Bruins lost money on their appearance in the Sun Bowl, their $2.28 million in expenses and coaching bonuses for the trip to El Paso outstripping their $1.87 million in revenue.

UCLA’s $18.3 million in revenue from sponsorships, licensing agreements, advertisements and royalties was an increase of $3.5 million from the previous year thanks in part to it being the first year the school earned sales commissions from its Nike deal. The return of sports camps amid the receding pandemic brought in $2.79 million, up from $992,000 the previous year.

Men’s basketball ticket sales produced $7.3 million with the team ranked in the top 10 nationally for most of the season. That was a considerable jump from $5.6 million the previous season, when three home games were limited to family and friends in the wake of a coronavirus flareup.

There’s hope that Big Ten teams coming to the Rose Bowl to face the Bruins in 2024 could bring along a huge pocket of fans interested in making their first trip to Pasadena, boosting ticket sales. UCLA’s home schedule includes games against Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa in addition to Oregon and USC.

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