In an email to season ticket holders late Sunday, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte hinted at budget cuts, or at least a strong belt tightening, for Longhorns athletics in the coming year because of COVID-19.
Citing “these challenging times,” Del Conte asked season ticket holders to consider leaving “all or some of your 2020 Texas Football payment with us as a 100% tax-deductible gift.”
It’s the first public acknowledgement from UT athletics that the worldwide pandemic will likely hurt the athletic department’s finances. It’s unclear what kind of budget cuts could be coming, but the school has not announced any coaching salary cuts or job furloughs.
Audited figures show Texas athletics generated $224 million in revenues during the 2018-19, according to the most recent data set. The department had $207 million in expenses. Big 12 television revenues are now in serious jeopardy, and it’s unclear whether Longhorn Network will be required to make its full $15 million annual payment without games to show.
UT has more than $250 million in debt payments scheduled through 2044 based on the previous expansion of Royal-Memorial Stadium.
The athletic department also had $46 million set aside in endowments as of August 2019 —a figure that is likely now higher thanks to market gains.
“Lately, one of my favorite sayings is, ‘Want to make God laugh? Make a plan,’” Del Conte wrote. “To work through the financial position COVID-19 has put us in, we will be operating on a budget during the upcoming 2020-21 athletics year that is far below previous years standards of excellence.”
In previous interviews in May and June, Del Conte said UT athletics had time on its side, since the department’s fiscal year runs September through August. Now that it’s beyond Aug. 1, hard realities may be setting in since it’s unlikely UT will play 12 football games this season.
The Big 12 is expected to announce it will be playing a 10-game season once school presidents formally ratify a schedule proposal during Monday’s meeting.
“As always, your continued financial support is vital to our overall operation,” the email continued. “I know it’s difficult in these challenging times, and I do realize none of us can predict what the next month or day or sometimes hour may bring.
“But I am asking you to stay with us so that we can move forward while providing our nearly 600 student-athletes with the opportunities, experiences and resources that we pride ourselves in delivering,” Del Conte wrote.
“We need you to help Texas Athletics with the support that allows us to compete on a championship level in each and every sport and in all that we provide for our coaches, student-athletes, staff and teams. You are the wind beneath our wings, and we appreciate you so much!”
With the coronavirus pandemic, UT may allow only 50% stadium capacity this fall at Royal-Memorial Stadium. The school is now looking at only a 25% capacity. Some fans may be nervous about large gatherings and simply opt out for the season.
For those who leave all of their football payment with the athletic department, Del Conte is offering triple loyalty points on the Longhorn Foundation priority list — 15 for every $100. For those who leave some, they will receive 10 points for every $100.
“If you just can’t swing it, need to opt out of your football tickets this year, or know you will not purchase tickets or attend in-person events, I am asking that you renew your Longhorn Foundation membership at a level that is financially feasible for you right now or to make a donation to Texas Athletics in any amount you can,” Del Conte wrote.
Del Conte thanked season ticket holders profusely and wrote, “we love and appreciate you so much and are beyond thankful for your pride, passion and support.”
“But I do know that a United Texas is a reckoning,” Del Conte wrote. “Now, more than ever, is a critical time for us to unify, come together and rally as one big family. Like any successful team, we can do this together, and I hope we can count you in!”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.