After the cancellation of spring sports for the 2020 season, Cal State Fullerton Athletics has lost approximately $1.05 million in revenue this fiscal year from ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and facility rentals, said Summer Rivera, CSUF Athletics chief financial officer.
Included in the financial blow is a 70% loss of NCAA funding that is provided through postseason play such as the NCAA basketball tournament, which was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic. With the combined loss of revenue through multiple streams, the department expects their budget for next year to be flat to down overall, said Athletic Director Jim Donovan.
Amid these circumstances, Titan Athletics has been pushed to adjust their budget to match the reduced revenues. This included layoffs of 11 full-time and two part-time employees, as well as three graduate assistant equivalents. Of those employees, about half the layoffs consisted of support staff, and the other half consisted of employees from the sports programs, which included a handful of assistant coaches and one trainer.
Donovan said it saddened him greatly to let the employees go, and that it had nothing to do with performance, but it was necessary for the budget.
“We would love to bring those positions back, in some areas we have to, because we can only operate for a short period, six months to a year with the severe reduction in staffing,” Donovan said. “We’ll have to bring them back eventually, but we have to wait til the revenues start to recover.”
Aside from the layoffs, no currently employed staff member within the athletics department has needed to take a pay-cut to make up for the lost revenue, but said it would be a larger issue to be determined by either the CSUs or the state government as the situation develops, said to Senior Associate Athletics Director Steve DiTolla.
“In this business, you’re trained to deal with adversity, and we just got right to the task and got the job done and it really sucked. I’ll be very honest with you, it’s been very difficult. But given the situation, I think we’ve done a really good job adapting to the situation,” DiTolla said.
By the time of the suspension, the baseball and softball teams, which make up almost the entirety of ticket sales for spring sports, had only completed 30% of their games of the season. Season ticket holders will be offered a prorated refund for the missed games as a result, said Assistant Athletics Director of Sales and Marketing Jennifer McGhen.
Refunds can either be given back to the buyer, donated to the athletics department or carried over to cover a part of the cost for season tickets for next year. Pre-sale tickets for individual games are currently in the process of being completely reimbursed to purchasers.
Although the baseball and softball teams were expected to be televised on ESPN in a slate of seven combined games throughout the season, being a small NCAA school has benefited CSUF since the university does not earn any revenue from televised games to begin with. Larger institutions, such as Power-5 schools, are tied to much larger television agreements and face a larger financial burden now that those agreements have become void according to Donovan.
Under social-distancing orders from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, it is still unknown whether sports will continue in the fall. Even if these guidelines become more lenient, mass gatherings such as sporting events may still be barred from the public.
This may result in games without fans in attendance if competition were to continue as usual in the fall — a trend that many other major sports organizations may follow depending on public health guidelines.
If this scenario were to be played out, Titan Athletics is in the process of increasing its bandwidth to broadcast games via streaming while still including live-action elements such as an announcer and music, according to McGhen.
“People will still be able to watch our athletes perform at the highest level that they can, we will try to do our best from a game atmosphere,” McGhen said. “Even now, we’re just trying to communicate with our fans through social media, keeping everybody engaged along with our student athletes and our coaches.”
With continued uncertainty about how the coronavirus will further impact different institutions, many decisions are yet to be made at both the NCAA and legislative levels. Despite the lack of a clear future, Titan Athletics has maintained consistent communication within the department via Zoom to discuss how to navigate through the current situation and find solutions to the obstacles they now endure, Donovan said.
“We’ve adapted well. We were very quick and we’ve communicated well and that’s probably a key factor in being able to adapt quickly, because we trust each other,” Donovan said. “It’s what we learned through athletics. We learned to make a game plan, we learned that things aren’t going to always go according to plan. You got to be able to adjust the game plan and be flexible and make adjustments.”