Florida Gulf Coast: A Cinderella but no riches

Its surprising March Madness run will reap glory. Profits, however, aren't usually part of the story line in college sports.

By Jonathan Berr Mar 26, 2013 11:54AM
Florida Gulf Coast's Sherwood Brown, center, celebrates with teammates after their 81-71 win over San Diego State in Philadelphia on March 24, 2013 (© Michael Perez/AP)With the NCAA's Men's Basketball Tournament now down to the last 16 teams, all eyes are on this elite group of college teams. But none have grabbed the public's attention more than Florida Gulf Coast University. The relatively unknown Fort Myers, Fla., school's appearance in the "Sweet 16" is surely a Cinderella moment. But it probably won't bring FGCU a huge profit.

According to Victor Matheson, an associate professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross, FGCU's "average attendance this year was only 2,200 per game," he said in an email to MSN Money. "Considering lots of those are students who get in free and others are faculty, staff, alumni, military, and youth who can get in for as little as $6, you are not talking big revenue here. ... They will probably be able to sell more tickets for next season, and their good performance this year probably increased attendance a bit this year. But overall, the direct economic effect on the school is small."

FGCU, which opened in 1997, is the first 15th seed to make the Sweet 16 in the tournament's 75-year history. Based on fees the NCAA pays to conferences for appearing in the tournament, Florida Gulf Coast has likely earned an additional $500,000 for the Atlantic Sun Conference for each of the next six years.

However, the money is split among conference members, which include Northern Kentucky, Stetson University and Jacksonville University. Typically, these funds are divided equally. A spokesperson for FGCU couldn't be immediately be reached for comment.

Making the tournament does have other, more intangible benefits such as providing opportunities to market a school to prospective students or attracting the attention of potential sponsors such as athletic apparel makers.

But most teams that aren't in a big-time conference earn much money. Matheson's research from the 2004-2005 season found that most major- and small-conference teams had expenses of at least $600,000 after paying coaches salaries, travel expenses and scholarships. Of the 109 Division I schools he studied, about half made a profit on their basketball programs.  

Sports aren't cash cows for most universities. The average football team in the NCAA's Bowl Championship Series made a profit of between $5 million and $10 million. Most of those profits, however, were eaten up by the costs of participating in other sports. Matheson's research from a few years ago found one athletic department that was profitable overall, which was the University of Michigan.
Next up for the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles is the University of Florida Gators. That game will take place Friday in Arlington, Texas. Advancing any further may not make FGCU rich, but it sure would make it even more popular.

Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter @jdberr.

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Mar 26, 2013 1:08PM
It shouldn't be about money but about the pride of your school.
Mar 28, 2013 5:31PM
NCAA is an absolute corrupt entity....How much do they make from TV revenue...Hundreds of millions of buckerroooos.....FGCU is getting screwed again.

Mark Emmet is a horse's **** as head of the Anarchy calling themselves the NCAA....F Them...Email that prick....All day long
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