Overall, 2016-17 was a pretty solid year for Maryland sports. Men’s basketball was in the running for the Big Ten title, women’s basketball went to the Sweet 16, football actually made a bowl game, men’s soccer finished the regular season ranked No. 1, field hockey and baseball reached their respective NCAA tournaments and of course, men’s and women’s lacrosse won their national championships.
But that success didn’t translate to much extra dough for the school. According to data released last week by USA Today, Maryland’s athletic department brought in about $94.9 million in revenue during the 2017 fiscal year. Of the 13 schools from the Big Ten that provided data — Chicago’s Big Ten School™ (Northwestern) is private and thus exempt — that’s the second-lowest total, ahead of only Purdue ($84.8 million).
The Terps are definitely in better shape than they used to be. From fiscal 2005 to 2013, the athletic department averaged $58.7 million in yearly revenue. It jumped to $73.4 million during fiscal 2014 — the last fiscal year Maryland was in the ACC — and spiked again to $92.7 million with the move to the Big Ten in fiscal 2015.
From there, though, the growth has slowed. And last year was a lucrative one for the Big Ten: The 13 schools in the report averaged about $125.5 million in fiscal 2017, up from $108.5 million in fiscal 2015. That means over the past two fiscal years, the average Big Ten athletic department (well, except for that private one) increased its income by $17 million, while Maryland added only $2.2 million.
USA Today doesn’t go into much detail on where that money comes from, but given what we know about Maryland’s revenue streams, we can look at how the school compares to its peers in a few different regards. One factor in particular — the reason the Terps switched conferences in the first place — seems to have played a big role in the school falling behind: TV money.
In 2012 — the year Maryland announced the move — the Big Ten paid its full members more than $24 million thanks to lucrative TV contracts, with the prospect of new broadcast deals and even more money down the road. For a school that had to cut seven varsity sports to save money while in a conference with meager $17 million payouts, that was a pretty tantalizing arrangement.
On the surface, it seems the move paid off right away: For the 2014-15 year, Maryland raked in $36.1 million from the Big Ten. Not only was that far more than the ACC would’ve given, it was also more than any other Big Ten school received that year.
That figure wasn’t as impressive as it seemed, though. The Terps’ base payment that year was $24.5 million, since they weren’t yet a “full” member of the conference — the 11 longstanding Big Ten members got $32.4 million in base pay — and $11.6 million was added on as an advance to help offset the costs of leaving the ACC. In other words, Maryland wouldn’t be getting a bigger check than its peers every year.
How does this affect the bottom line? In fiscal 2015, largely because of that $36.1 million cushion, Maryland’s athletic department earned a total of $47.3 million from rights and licensing, slightly above the Big Ten average of $46.1 million, according to USA Today’s data. But by fiscal 2017, with the conference average rising to $55.3 million, the Terps saw a more modest increase, to $48.3 million. Over the span of just two years, the school fell from sixth in the Big Ten to 12th.
Even in fiscal 2015, when the Terps got that tidy $36.1 million, the athletic department ranked just ninth in the conference in total revenue. Less growth in rights and licensing is why Maryland’s income has stagnated; poor performance in everything else is why it was so low in the first place.
In terms of tickets, Maryland can barely hold a candle to its conference rivals. The average Big Ten school brought in $27.9 million in ticket revenue in fiscal 2017; the Terps were at $15.3 million. In fairness, this is partially due to the fact that Maryland doesn’t charge for student tickets (well, not directly — more on that in a sec), but it also doesn’t help that the football stadium’s capacity is half that of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan (and the team has a 20-30 record since joining the conference).
The athletic department isn’t much better in terms of getting donors to open up their wallets. Maryland netted $12.3 million in “contributions” (including both cash and in-kind gifts) during the 2017 fiscal year, less than half the Big Ten average of $25.1 million. As a point of reference, in 2014 Michigan State’s athletic department got $10 million from one donation alone.
The Terps do lead the way in one source of revenue — but that’s not a good thing. No other athletic department in the conference earned more from student fees in fiscal 2017 than Maryland’s, which pocketed a cool $12 million. In fact, nine of those 13 Big Ten athletic departments didn’t have any student fees to support them. So if you were wondering why you paid $406* in “athletics” fees last year, well, now you know.
*Fee applies to undergraduate students taking nine or more credits during both the fall 2017 and spring 2018 semesters. Other fees may vary. Contact your academic advisor for more information.
To be fair, the Big Ten sets a pretty high bar. Of the 52 Power Five schools in USA Today’s dataset, Maryland was a more respectable 37th in fiscal 2017 revenue. Four of the eight public ACC schools were below the Terps’ $94.9 million; so were six of the 10 public Pac-12 schools and four of the eight public Big 12 schools.
That’s not surprising, though, given the relative lack of money in their broadcast agreements. Members of a conference with a 10-figure TV contract will always get a leg up on their competitors; whether they take advantage of that depends on what they do everywhere else.
For what it’s worth, the Terps weren’t in the red last year. Their athletic department’s expenses added up to $94.8 million in fiscal 2017, meaning they managed to just about break even. That’s more than you can say for Cal ($91 million in revenue, $106 million in expenses) or Virginia ($92.9 million in revenue, $100.3 million in expenses) or a bunch of other spendthrift schools.
Things should get better for Maryland down the road. By 2020-21, all 14 members of the Big Ten will get the same sum — $51 million and growing — from its TV deal. The Gossetts donated $21.25 million earlier this year, and maybe that’ll convince Kevin Plank to chip in again. (It probably won’t, but might as well dream B1G.)
At the end of the day, how much money comes in matters a lot less than what happens on the field/court — this is Terps Watch, not Cash Watch. After something of a down year in 2017-18, a rebound for Maryland sports in 2018-19 would definitely help us forget about flatlining revenue, and maybe even lead to another income spike.
And hey — at least we’re better than Purdue.