OU athletics reported record revenue in 2023; Financial future looks brighter

OU athletics reported record revenue in 2023; Financial future looks brighter

Oklahoma recorded its best year of incoming revenue in 2023. Here’s why the Sooners annual revenues will go up in the future once the Sooners land in the SEC.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Feb 14, 2024, 9:24am CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Feb 14, 2024, 9:24am CST

(Eli Lederman’s “OU Week in Review” newsletter hits inboxes every Saturday morning. Subscribe here.)

NORMAN — Oklahoma collected five conference titles, claimed two national championships and secured an early exit to the SEC from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023.

But how did OU’s athletic department fare financially over that span? According to the department’s annual financial summary obtained by Sellout Crowd, OU’s athletic operating revenues outstripped the program’s expenses by just over $300,000 in the 2023 fiscal year.

Per the report submitted to the NCAA, OU’s total operating revenues reached $199,295,570 in 2023, representing the highest single-year revenue in department history. 

The 2023 revenue figure marks a year-over-year increase of roughly 8.8% after OU reported an operating revenue of $177.3 million in the 2022 fiscal year. The department has now recorded consecutive years of significant revenue growth since OU saw its operating revenue drop to $143.6 million in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As OU’s revenues rose last year, the department’s operating expenses soared to record levels, too.

OU reported $198,975,224 in total operating expenses in 2023, a sharp rise from the $175.9 million the department doled out in the previous fiscal year. Before 2022, the department had never reported operating expenses greater than the $157.9 million OU spent in 2019, per data collected by USA Today.

In sum, OU athletics earned more, spent more and recorded an operating surplus below $5.2 million for a fifth-straight year in 2023, and the department’s latest financial report paints the picture of a healthy operation as the Sooners’ prepare to enter the SEC later this year.

On the verge of a new era, it’s worth understanding how OU generates its revenue, where the department spends its money and why the program’s annual revenues are only about to grow larger when the Sooners land in their new conference home on July 1. 

 

How did OU reach record revenues in 2023?

Outside contributions to athletic programs slowed across the country in recent years, influenced heavily by COVID-1

9. In Norman, the $43.1 million in contributions OU reported for the 2022 fiscal year marked the department’s lowest annual total since 2015. 

In 2023, OU saw contributions return to previous heights. The $60.7 million in contributions the department rep

orted in the last year accounted for roughly 30% of OU’s total operating revenue and marked the third-highest 

single-year contribution total in program history.

Next on the revenue list is the $48.2 million OU reported in 2023 ticket sales, driven primarily by the school’s football program. 

OU football accounted for 89% of the department’s ticket sales during Brent Venables’ debut season in 2022, totaling $42.9 million even as the Sooners sputtered to a 6-7 finish. Elsewhere, OU’s basketball programs made up nearly 5% of the remaining tick

et sales ($2.4 million) for the year, followed by the softball program at nearly 3% ($1.4 million).

As a member of the Big 12, OU brought in $27.1 million through its conference media rights distribution, whic

h includes radio, television, internet, digital and e-commerce rights. Another $23.4 million arrived in royalties, licensing, advertisement and sponsorships (RLAS).

All told, four line items — contributions, ticket sales, media rights and RLAS — comprised roughly 80% of OU’s 2023 athletic department revenue.

  • Contributions: $60.7 million
  • Ticket sales: $48.2 million (89% football, 5% men’s basketball, 3% softball)
  • Media rights (radio, TV, internet, etc.): $27.1 million
  • Royalties, licensing, advertisement and sponsorships: $23.4 million

How did OU spend its money in 2023?

The cost of running one of the top athletic departments in the nation is going up.

In 2021, OU reported “direct overhead and administrative costs” of $28.4 million. During the 2022 fiscal year, that figure skyrocketed to $42.1 million. In the department’s 2023 financial report, those expenses reached $46.3 million, accounting for roughly 23% of the OU’s overall operating expenses last year. 

OU’s coaching salaries and benefits expenses rose $2.6 million to $35.8 million in 2023, led by Venables’ contract that pays the Sooners’ football coach $7.25 million annually.

Other bulk expenses included $29.3 million in support staff pay (up from $24.8 million in 2022), $18.9 million in student athletic aid and roughly $11.5 million in team travel, not including the $4 million the department spent on its 2022 Cheez-It Bowl trip in Orlando.

OU athletics’ top operating expenses in the 2023 fiscal year

  • Direct overhead and administrative: $46.3 million
  • Coaching salaries and benefits: $35.8 million
  • Support staff pay: $29.3 million
  • Athletic student aid: $18.9 million
  • Team travel: $11.5 million
  • Recruiting: $5.6 million
  • Equipment, uniforms and supplies: $5 million
  • Cheez-It Bowl travel: $4 million

Of note, OU maintained its surplus in 2023 while cutting its total athletics-related debt by nearly $6 million, down to $186.5 million from $192.2 million in 2022. 

Why can OU expect to generate more revenue in the future?

OU’s athletic department has consistently pulled in some of the largest annual revenues in the country. Per USA Today, the department’s $177.3 million revenue total ranked 10th nationally in 2022.

Now, as the Sooners embark on a life in a new conference and a new era in college athletics, future revenues in Norman are expected to grow even larger.

The most prominent revenue driver waiting in the Sooners’ future is the sharp increase in conference revenue share OU will receive in the SEC. The conference reported nearly $853 million in total revenue in 2023, resulting in an average distribution of $51.3 million to each of the SEC’s 14 current members and dwarfing the $480.6 million the Big 12 reported in revenue in 2022. 

Only the Big Ten, which reported $845.6 million in total revenue in 2022, is expected to outpace the SEC in total revenue among Power Five conferences in 2023. 

OU and Texas won’t receive SEC revenue shares in 2024 as part of their entry agreements in their new conference. But once the Sooners enter the revenue-sharing pool, the department will begin landing the largest annual conference distributions in program history. 

The SEC’s new media rights deal with ESPN, which could reportedly take the league’s annual revenue over $1 billion, will only strengthen the individual distributions coming to OU.

Another source of increased revenue will likely come to OU through an expanded, 12-team College Football Playoff. 

Under the four-team format, each Power Five conference currently receives a share of $80 million distributed among its members. That number will grow in the coming years as money flows into a new postseason format with more games and added exposure.

One more place for evident growth in OU’s future revenues is ticket sales, which accounted for nearly 25% of the department’s overall revenue in 2023. 

Starting in 2024, the department can anticipate increased attendance — and, in turn, increased ticket revenue — from traveling football fans across the SEC. The 4,200-fan capacity at Love Field — more than double the seating at Marita Hynes Field — opens new revenue opportunities with Patty Gasso’s softball powerhouse, too. Another potential revenue driver lies with long-discussed plans for a new basketball arena in Norman.

OU athletics’ latest financial summary offered a positive outlook on the state of the department. The future in Norman, financially and otherwise, should be even brighter. 

 

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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