After posting three consecutive years of financial losses from 2012 to 2014, the Colorado athletic department balanced its budget for the second year in a row during the 2016 fiscal year, which came to a close in June.
"That was one of the missions of the strategic plan, so we were able to accomplish that," said Cory Hilliard, associate athletic director/business operations and chief financial officer. "We budgeted responsibly, which was key, and things relatively went as planned, with the exceptions being mostly positive."
Some of those exceptions included a jump of roughly $2.33 million in conference distribution — taking in nearly $26.8 million — and a $2.5 million spike in sponsorship money. Most of that came from a $2 million bonus from Nike for renewing a sponsorship agreement last spring.
The department also had an increase in football ticket sales by nearly $700,000 last year.
"We see an ebb and flow every year based on the schedule," Hilliard said. "We saw this in the Big 12 as well. There was always those years when Oklahoma or Texas came in to town, and those were the windfall years. We see that in the Pac-12. When Oregon, Stanford, USC come to town, those are big seasons for us."
All three of those schools visited Boulder last season, helping the Buffs to exceed expectations.
Overall, CU generated $69,414,528 in revenue — an increase of more than $8 million from the previous year.
CU also increased expenses from $61.2 million in 2015 to roughly $68 million. The Buffs had an increase of more than $1.2 million in facilities expenses, and spent more on sports medicine, its nutrition program and other administration and support services. The department also had an increase of $1.3 million in operating expenses for the football program.
In the end, though, Hilliard said the department was very pleased with how it balanced the budget.
After budgeting to borrow $600,000 from its reserve account, the department was able to add $1,446,508 to that account. It's the second year in a row CU was able to add a significant chunk to that account at the end of the fiscal year.
From 2010-13, the department borrowed from that account every year, totaling $4.39 million during that span.
For the 2016-17 fiscal year, CU is budgeting for nearly $81 million in expenses. The dramatic increase is because CU will start paying the debt service on the new Champions Center. That cost is nearly $10 million this next year.
"The debt service was a big hit to the budget impact, but we were prepared for that, we knew it was coming," Hilliard said.
CU's Sustainable Excellence Initiative (SEI) and the "Drive for $105 million" campaign were established to generate revenue to cover the costs for the upcoming debt service payments. As of the end of June, CU has raised more than $66.1 million in capital funding and $27.7 million in endowments.
Hilliard said that going forward, there is also a significant growth factor in conference distributions and the money generated by the TV contract for the College Football Playoff.
CU has budgeted for less money in football ticket sales, without many of the Pac-12's marquee teams on the home schedule.
"Not that we can't sell tickets to Oregon State, Washington State and Utah, but it always is nice to have that golden nugget out there of an Oregon," he said. "I think UCLA is an opportunity where we could see some very positive upward trends in budget vs. actual."
Hilliard said the department continues to seek opportunities for revenue growth, through hosting outside events (such as weddings), ticket sales, and sponsorship, licensing and naming rights for spaces within the facility.
For now, Hilliard said the Buffs are "very pleased" with the financial state of the department.