Arkansas athletics operated at a surplus of almost $20.8 million in fiscal year 2021, thanks in large part to the supplemental revenue payments the SEC made to each member institution.
The SEC doled out $23.3 million to all 14 schools to help mitigate financial losses due to the pandemic. The payout was a one-time advance on future SEC revenue projected from a lucrative TV contract, beginning in 2025, under which ESPN will be taking over the package of football games currently held by CBS.
Each school also received a $4 million signing bonus for that ESPN agreement, which was included in Arkansas' $29 million conference distribution.
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The fiscal year ran from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. Arkansas reported total operating revenue of about $132.4 million, including that SEC payment, and total operating expenses of $111.6 million.
Without the $23.3 million from the conference, Arkansas would have been at a $2.2 million deficit. That's not a bad number for a pandemic year in which attendance was restricted at football, basketball and early season baseball games.
In fiscal year 2020, which included the early months of the pandemic, Arkansas operated at a deficit of about $500,000. Fiscal year 2019 had Arkansas about $7.8 million in the black.
Fiscal year 2021 was shaped by the pandemic. Attendance caps caused lost revenue in ticket sales to the tune of a nearly 50% decrease. Game-day purchases like concessions, merchandise and parking also saw losses. Medical expenses, meanwhile, more than doubled thanks to the costs of testing, contact tracing and more.
But the pandemic also meant there was less spending in some categories. Recruiting, for example, was less expensive in the pandemic because of restrictions. The NCAA instituted a recruiting dead period that lasted 15 months, and Arkansas spent $1.5 million less on recruiting because of it.
Football bowl revenue
Conference members receive payments from revenue generated by football bowl games. Arkansas received $9.3 million from the SEC in that category in 2021. That sum is larger than the portion Arkansas received in either 2020 or 2019.
So, even though Arkansas didn't appear in a bowl in any of the past three years, the Razorbacks still profited from bowl season.
Arkansas was supposed to play in the Texas Bowl in 2020, but COVID-19 issues forced its cancellation. This appears in the fiscal report in the form of $0 in bowl revenue but nearly $300,000 in bowl expenses and $565,000 paid in incentives to coaches.
Severance payments jump
Arkansas football's severance payments jumped from $1.9 million in 2020 to $6.5 million in 2021.
This was primarily payments to former coach Chad Morris, who was fired in November 2019, defensive coordinator John Chavis, and final payments to Morris' predecessor, Bret Bielema.
Additional increases came from payments to fired assistants Derrick LeBlanc (defensive line) and Ron Cooper (tight ends).
Arkansas reported a $1.2 million increase in contributions from 2020 to 2021. Every sport actually saw a decrease in contributions except for football. The $13.3 million was an increase of about $654,000 from the previous year.
Contributions are defined as "amounts received from individuals, corporations, associations, foundations, clubs or other organizations... funds contributed by outside contributors for the payment of debt service, lease payments or rental fee expenses for athletic facilities. ... Amounts received above face value for tickets."
In a marked difference from the year before, no women's teams received contributions. Arkansas did pull in $1.9 million in contributions not allocated to specific teams.
This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Arkansas athletics $20.8 million in the black thanks to SEC payment