Alabama Football: Follow the money – revenues and expenses in the SEC

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 24: A general view of Bryant-Denny Stadium during the game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tennessee Volunteers at on October 24, 2009 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 24: A general view of Bryant-Denny Stadium during the game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tennessee Volunteers at on October 24, 2009 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Alabama football continues to lead the nation in football spending. While revenues dip for some SEC football programs, let’s consider the correlation between dollars and wins.

The home of the biggest and baddest football players in America, the SEC, is led in football spending by Alabama football. In fact, the Crimson Tide spends more on its football program than any other school in the nation.

Results on the field indicate the Alabama football program is making prudent use of its funds. It is easy to get caught up in the complaint that big money is harming college football. Thanks to massive media contracts, the money is staggering compared to 20th-century numbers.

Arguments continue over whether college athletes should receive some compensation, beyond the considerable benefits provided through scholarship programs. Those arguments are not new and they are not likely to be resolved soon.

Let’s consider another question. Do larger college football budgets correlate with a greater frequency of wins? There is no hard evidence to be reviewed. We can look at SEC football program’s revenue and their corresponding onfield performance. recently published information on the financial performance of SEC and B1G football and basketball programs. The data is through June 30, 2017, so it applies to the 2016 CFB season. A list of the SEC schools is included at the bottom of this post. Let’s first try to answer the dollars and wins question.

Tennessee tops in total revenue

In the 2016 season, Tennessee had the most revenue at $110.7 million and nine wins. Compare that to Kentucky with $36.4 million in revenue and seven wins. An even more striking comparison is to Mississippi State’s 2015 revenue of $35.7 million and also nine wins. Averaging the two seasons, Tennessee spends a little more than $10 million more per season on football than Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, at least under Dan Mullen, were a bargain.

Of course, gross revenues matter but Tennessee’s operating expenses for football was lower than many SEC schools at $32.6 million. It has been widely reported the Tennessee athletic department is burdened by a large amount of debt.

Alabama football spent $62.2 million on its football program, the highest operating budget in the nation. The budget kept Alabama football net revenue at just $45.9 million. For anyone jumping to the conclusion, Alabama football spends way more money than any other CFB program, consider Michigan. The Wolverines spent $60.6 million in 2016. Harbaugh did produce 10 wins in 2016, but despite the big operating budget, no conference championship and no CFB Playoff berth.

Our conclusion is big dollars spent only helps with the right coach. Athletic Directors, Joe Alleva at LSU and Warde Manuel at Michigan might want to give that some thought.

Alabama football adjusts

A somewhat troubling data point in the SEC football revenues is the drop at five schools compared to 2015. Those schools are Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Missouri. Attending a college football game is expensive for many fans. Slowly, but perhaps steadily, the game is becoming more of a media viewing experience, rather than a live and in-person event. Most bowl games are a good example.

Alabama football is not suffering in ticket sales. Still, the recent move to new, home-and-home contests with Notre Dame and Texas, indicate Greg Byrne and Nick Saban are adapting to a new dynamic.

SEC Football 2016 Season Revenue (showing trend from 2015 season)

  1. Tennessee up to $110.7 million
  2. Alabama up to $108.1 million
  3. Georgia up to $93.3 million
  4. Auburn down to $91.7 million
  5. LSU up to $86.2 million
  6. Florida down to $82.8 million
  7. Arkansas up to $71.2 million
  8. Texas A&M down to $70.4 million
  9. Ole Miss up to $62.7 million
  10. South Carolina up to $60.3 million
  11. Kentucky up to $36.4 million
  12. Mississippi State up to $35.7 million
  13. Missouri down to $29.2 million
  14. Vanderbilt up to $29 million.

Next: 5 Dream Home and Home Series for the Tide

To us, there are a couple of interesting side facts. The Commodores made $5 million in net revenue with the smallest stadium and the smallest operating budget in the league. Way to go Dores! Proof football is king everywhere in the south, UK football had higher net revenue than Cats basketball.