Patterson: Smarter Financial Options For College Athletics

With over three decades of experience in both college and professional sports, Steve Patterson has seen it all.

That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic flipped life upside down on fields and courts around the world.

As the numbers in Arizona continue to spike, Patterson believes playing college sports here, or really anywhere, isn’t a feasible option at this point.

“It’s hard to see a safe, secure environment where you can have the health of everybody,” He said to Sports360AZ.com’s Brad Cesmat in a recent Skype interview. “Those are the kind of concerns that are happening on every campus in the country, not just in the Pac-12.”

Patterson, the former Arizona State and University of Texas Athletic Director, also served as President and CEO of the Arizona Coyotes, as well as other high-ranking positions with the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Texans. Now he serves as the President of Pro Sports Consulting.

He believes the pandemic trickle down impact at the college level has started. Stanford recently dropped a number of sports, the Pac-12 and Big-10 canceled their 2020 non-conference football games and Patterson feels schools will attempt to schedule more regionally-based matchups in hopes of controlling their athletic budgets after the pandemic earthquake finally settles.

However, he feels colleges have financial road maps during these trying times. 

“You need to play fewer or no games in football,” Patterson explained. “Maybe fewer or less games of basketball in the fall – potentially moving all that to the spring. I think you need to do a better job of managing data. I think you need to do a better job managing sales. I think you need to do a better job of fundraising.” 

In short, focus in on your target demo and put resources towards getting the most out of your donor audience for that particular sport.

Patterson acknowledged, especially now, that’s easier said than done – considering the present times. Advertising is down across the board, major brands like Under Armour are cutting back on college deals (like UCLA’s $280 million package), among other “economic headwinds” as he noted.

Each school can benefit from capitalizing on successful sports, other than football and basketball. He mentioned ASU’s’ volleyball program, as well as Utah’s gymnastics. Both, due to their consistent success and interest, can help generate revenue if properly packaged by the university.

Then there’s the future of college bowl games.

Patterson chuckles.

“That’s going to be interesting. I don’t know. You need to get through a season first…what happens if they move games to the spring? Are they going to move bowl games to the spring, maybe? I don’t know. Wait and see.”

“It’s going to be interesting.”

Welcome to 2020: the great unknown.