Colorado athletic director Rick George is targeting a $10 million turnaround in athletic department revenue in the next three years with most of the gains expected to come from reviving the struggling football program.

George said he inherited a $5.6 million budget shortfall when he was hired last summer after several years as president of business operations for the Texas Rangers. The shortfall was caused by steep declines in ticket sales for football in recent years, especially after the 1-11 2012 season.

George recently completed the first stages of a strategic plan for the department. One of the goals in the plan is to improve the overall financial condition of the department from the $5.6 million shortfall to having more than $4 million in net revenues at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

George said when the department does become revenue positive, the additional revenues will be used to pay down the department's debts and enhance operations in strategic and conservative ways.

CU's push for funding toward improvements to facilities is separate from the general operating budget.

While football isn't the entire solution, it's by far the biggest part of the puzzle.

"We look at it and we say, 'OK, where is our biggest opportunity to generate revenue?'" George said. "And it's football. We've got to get football selling tickets."

Season-ticket renewals are slightly above what they were at this time last year and the program has added some new season-ticket holders. Another goal in the strategic plan is for the football program to play in a bowl game this season and next and to play in the Pac-12 Conference championship game by the 2016 season. The Buffs were 4-8 last season with two wins over Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

George said getting fans to come to games isn't entirely about having a winning program, but there is no question the Buffs have to start winning more often on the gridiron. CU reported several crowds of fewer than 40,000 paying customers last season. The program hadn't reported fewer than 40,000 attending a game at Folsom Field since the late-1980s prior to last season.

"When we leave 15,000 seats empty every game, we're losing probably anywhere from $10 to $12 million in revenue (for the year)," George said. "When you're leaving that on the table, we've got to look for some other revenue sources. We've got debt we've got to pay down. We've had to be creative in our thinking. We've kind of forced ourselves to get out of our comfort zone."

"I hope we have a break-through year," George said. "One of our strategic initiatives is to go to a bowl game this year. If we do that, that's going to translate down the road."

George's plan for improvements to Folsom Field includes new sources of revenue, including a new end zone club and loge seating in the north end, a new high performance sports medicine center in the northeast corner of the stadium and renting retail space on the exterior of Folsom Field's south side.

George and his team are working on the next stages of the strategic plan, including a plan for increasing ticket sales to football. In the past under former athletic director Mike Bohn, the department has offered tickets to football at drastically reduced prices during the season in order to entice people to come to games. The department also gave away tickets at times. George said he is committed to filling the stadium with paying customers and earning their business with a strong product.

"We've got to get them in the stadium before we can get them back," George said. "So, how do you do that? Giving away tickets is not my way to do that because then you devalue your tickets. So we won't do that. We're trying to put together different things.

"Once they get here, we've got to show them a different experience and give them a reason to come back."

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Kyle Ringo at or ringok@dailycamera.com