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SEC spells M-O-N-E-Y.

Move To New Conference Means A $2.7 Million Payoff For Razorbacks

Welcome to the big time.

How much the University of Arkansas athletic program will profit because of its move from the Southwest Conference to the Southeastern Conference remains inconclusive until the Razorbacks complete a full season in their new league.

But even the most casual observer should recognize some big differences.

The Razorbacks' season opener Sept. 5 against The Citadel, a non-conference opponent, drew only 35,868 fans at 50,000-seat Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

One week later, the Arkansas football team officially broke into the SEC with a 45-7 rout of another conference newcomer, the University of South Carolina. That game drew 63,100 fans to Williams-Brice Stadium at Columbia, S.C.

Welcome to SEC football. More fans. More prestige. More money. University officials estimate that the Razorbacks' membership in the SEC should mean 1992-93 revenues of $2.7 million -- about $1 million more than the athletic department made from its SWC affiliation.
SEC Budgets
Florida $25.6 Million
Tennessee $21.6 Million
LSU $20.1 Million
Auburn $19.0 Million
Kentucky $18.2 Million
S. Carolina $18.0 Million
Alabama $17.2 Million
Georgia $15.8 Million
Arkansas $11.0 Million
Vanderbilt N/A
Ole Miss $9.9 Million
Miss. St. $9.3 Million

Of course, the Hogs will make it the old-fashioned way: They'll earn it.

A quick look at the nation's Top 25 college football poll shows what the Razorbacks will face in the weeks and seasons to come. The Associated Press rankings of Sept. 13 included six of the SEC's 12 schools, the most for any conference. Meanwhile, the SWC boasted only one Top 25 member, No. 5 Texas A&M University.

The differences become even more apparent when comparing attendance figures.

The Razorbacks averaged 46,143 fans last season in home games at Fayetteville and Little Rock. The University of Texas led the SWC with a per-game average of 69,094 fans, followed by Texas A&M at 63,318. But the bottom dropped out quickly after the Aggies.

Among the remaining six schools, only Baylor University averaged as many as 40,000 fans per game.

Meanwhile, SEC teams accounted for five of the top 10 spots nationally in 1991 attendance.

The University of Tennessee drew an average of 96,400 fans at its six home games at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, second only to the University of Michigan of the Big Ten. The University of Florida was fifth with more than 84,000 fans per game. The University of Georgia was next at 82,000 fans per game, followed by Auburn University at 78,000 and the University of Alabama at 75,000.

The bigger SEC numbers translate into another big difference between the two leagues: money.

That's what the UA athletic program will need if it is to compete with its newfound conference brethren.

The Arkansas athletic department -- which encompasses sports ranging from men's football and basketball to women's golf -- is expecting to increase its travel budget by at least 10 percent in 1992-93, says Terry Don Phillips, senior associate athletic director.

The total budget is projected at $13.5 million, the majority of which is earmarked for scholarships and salaries.

Travel Up In The Air

While playing in the SWC, Arkansas never had to venture any farther than Lubbock, Texas, for a conference game.

Now, the Razorbacks will be traveling to South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee. If each athlete received frequent-flyer points during his respective season, the UA could open a profitable travel agency.

University officials are aware of how much more playing in the SEC is going to cost, but they also realize how much more the athletic department stands to profit from playing in the more visible conference.

According to Phillips, the UA will receive about $2.7 million in revenue over the course of the 1992-93 school year. That includes an estimated $1 million from the SEC's television contract.

A $400,000 share is anticipated from the league's football bowl distribution, with $350,000 coming from the SEC championship game.

The basketball television contract is expected to pull in another $209,000, while the conference tournament should provide Arkansas with an additional $150,000 for its share.

All told, Phillips estimates the athletic department will make about $1 million more in the SEC than in the SWC.

But, even with the windfall the UA stands to gain by joining the newly expanded SEC, it won't be enough to keep athletics running smoothly, Phillips says.

Athletic department officials, responsible for providing the $1.1 million needed to run the women's athletic program, are currently meeting with administration officials to discuss ways of better financing its needs, most of which are met through private donations and ticket sales.

"We feel like we're going to need some help," says Phillips.

He sees the $20 tab for football tickets and the $12 charge for basketball tickets as the limit to which fans should be expected to pay.

"There's only so much you can ask the Arkansas fans to do," he says. "We're about as far as we can go ..."

One revenue source that could help is student activity fees.

The university at Fayetteville is one of a handful its size in the country that does not charge its students activity fees. Such fees usually are used to fund athletic programs and allow students either free or discounted tickets to athletic events.

"It produces a constant stream of revenue," says Phillips.

See Ya, SWC

With such a large and potentially lucrative following, the Razorbacks were very attractive to the SEC, which split into two six-team divisions when it added Arkansas and South Carolina last year.

"We believe both of these institutions will have a positive impact" on the SEC, says Roy Kramer, commissioner of the league based in Birmingham, Ala.

"The conference is only as healthy as the schools in it. The success of the conference depends on its individual members."

One example of the profitability of the SEC is the popularity of its post-season basketball tournament. It sold out three months in advance.

Some of the credit goes to those Razorback fans who were legendary for turning Dallas' Reunion Arena into "Barnhill South" for the SWC basketball tournament. Many of them were eager to trek the longer distance to Birmingham last March to see their beloved Hogs compete in the SEC tourney for the first time.

The tournament brought in close to $2.5 million to the host city. It is expected to do much of the same for Lexington, Ky., site of the 1993 tournament at 23,000-seat Rupp Arena.

Meanwhile, the SWC's conference basketball championship suffered last season. The Dallas tournament sold out from 1989-91, averaging about 67,000 for the three-day event. However, last year, the first without the Razorbacks and their fans, the tournament lost about 20,000 paid tickets.

"We're going to lose as far as basketball goes," says Bo Carter, SWC director of media relations.

However, the remaining schools won't miss the expense and hassle of traveling to Fayetteville to play the Razorbacks. The absence of UA on their schedules will probably save the Texas schools $50,000-$100,000, Carter says.

Meanwhile, SEC teams are used to the travel.

So are their fans.

An estimated 11,000 Alabama supporters traveled to Little Rock last weekend for the Crimson Tide's game against Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium. Those visiting fans helped fill the stadium to its 53,715-seat capacity.

The only sellout last year for the Razorbacks was the Texas game at War Memorial.

"Traditionally, the Southeastern Conference is always ranked high in attendance," says Harold Steelman, War Memorial Stadium manager. "I think the university has always drawn well, and it being the first SEC game in the state made it a very important game ... It being the University of Alabama is another important factor."

Team Spirit

"What we're going to see with the move to the SEC is more of this," says Steelman.

The stadium office, the state Department of Parks & Tourism and the city of Little Rock produced an information guide on War Memorial and the state that was sent to University of Mississippi and Alabama ticket holders.

"I've heard people say, 'I'm going to go just to say that I was there,'" Steelman says. "It's something new for us."

A Razorback game in Little Rock brings an average of $1.8 million into the city, according to the Little Rock Advertising & Promotion Commission.

Visitors staying the night in one of the city's 3,000 hotel rooms spend about $90 a night, which includes accommodation costs and three meals. Fans who attend a game but do not stay overnight spend about $15 per night, according to the commission.

More visiting fans will mean more money into the city economy. And few doubt that fans of Alabama, Tennessee and their SEC kind fill more seats than those of most SWC teams.

"Our fans are like our program," Phillips says. "They face a new challenge and I think that they'll both rally to this challenge."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Southeastern Conference in football
Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 21, 1992
Previous Article:Stung by scandal.
Next Article:Women to watch.

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