Fresno State did not perform well on the field or at the box office this football season, which has the athletic department facing an $800,000 deficit due to poor season and single-game ticket sales.
The average attendance at the Bulldogs’ six home games was 29,036, only the second time since 1985 it fell below 30,000. The average was just 25,818 for the final three home games after a loss to Utah State dropped the Bulldogs’ record to 1-5 overall and 0-3 in Mountain West play.
“It was a tough year,” Athletic Director Jim Bartko said. “Compare it to last year with Nebraska here – their fans bought a lot of tickets. But that’s one thing we have to look at.
If the fans aren’t passionate, if they don’t care, then we’re in trouble. When they care, we have a chance.
Fresno State AD Jim Bartko
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“We have to fill Bulldog Stadium. We have to make sure fans are excited. We have to make sure we’re competing for championships and do the right thing. If the fans aren’t passionate, if they don’t care, then we’re in trouble. When they care, we have a chance.”
Bartko said the deficit will not impact the timetable to hire coaches for a wrestling program making a comeback after it was cut in 2006 due to budget limitations or a new women’s water polo program, or plans for an $80 million renovation of an aging Bulldog Stadium that were outlined in June. The wrestling and water polo teams are to be privately funded, as is a potential stadium renovation.
But the department this year is without revenue generators that in the past have helped the bottom line, complicating efforts to balance a $33.1 million budget.
Football game guarantees, which have brought in more than $1 million a year over the past four years, this season are producing a loss of $10,000 due to contracts negotiated by the previous athletics administration. Fresno State received $400,000 to play at Ole Miss and $250,000 to play at BYU, but paid Abilene Christian $360,000 and Utah $300,000 for games at Bulldog Stadium.
Minus $10,000 Fresno State’s net on guaranteed contracts this season for non-conference football games
The Bulldogs benefited last season when Boise State won the Mountain West championship and was selected to play in the Fiesta Bowl as the top-ranked champion from a Group of Five conference. The MW paid out a record $47 million, with Fresno State receiving $4.9 million. San Diego State and Air Force will play Saturday in the conference football championship game, but neither is likely to end up in a big-money bowl spot. The Falcons have four losses, the Aztecs three.
The Bulldogs’ game at Air Force this season was eligible to be picked up for a national broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2, which would have netted $500,000 through the Mountain West television contract. The network passed. Last season, Fresno State had its game against Wyoming picked up and received $500,000 that helped offset shortfalls. In 2013, the Bulldogs had two games selected and received an extra $1 million.
Barkto said he is counting on a donor base that has made significant contributions toward cost of attendance stipends, facilities upgrades and the implementation of a training table for student-athletes in all sports to help balance the budget.
“It affects us, but we’ll balance it,” Bartko said. “We’ll have people step up. The year goes up and down – you’re up some or you’re down some. But we have to. There’s no choice but to balance it. If we have to get donors to help fund that, we will. Money that could have been put toward something else may have to go to balance the budget, but we have made a commitment that we’re not going to take money from the campus with what they already have given us and we’re going to do it the right way. But $800,000, then you’ve got $1.2 million in cost of attendance … you’re raising money to fix shortfalls.”
34,876 Fresno State’s average attendance for six football games at Bulldog Stadium in 2014
Fresno State went into the fall with conservative budget projections for football season and single-game ticket sales – the total was $4,374,892, more than $720,000 less than in 2014.
But season ticket sales were down and with the Bulldogs struggling through a tough season, beset by injuries while playing four quarterbacks and making six changes at the position due to injuries and ineffective play, single-game ticket sales dropped considerably.
That is a disturbing trend for a department with grand plans for its future while also struggling to keep up with the rising costs of college athletics.
“Football and basketball have to win,” Bartko said. “It will help everybody else out. Our donors, we need to get our fan base fully engaged, which a lot of them have been. Our donors are stepping up and helping a lot. We’re going to get there, but in the next three or four years it’s going to take a lot of work.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
2015 football attendance
Fresno State averaged 29,036 fans for its six football games at Bulldog Stadium this season:
- Sept. 3 vs. Abilene Christian: 32,547
- Sept. 18 vs. Utah: 33,675
- Oct. 10 vs. Utah State: 30,540
- Oct. 16 vs. UNLV: 25,604
- Nov. 5 vs. Nevada: 25,476
- Nov. 28 vs. Colorado State: 26,375