Disclaimer: I’m just a fan making wild guesses backed by publicly available information. Real revenue projections are done by professionals; this is just for fun.
With that out of the way, here we go. The new Aztec Stadium is going to offer up an order of magnitude better in-game experience if only because of the improved sight lines and concessions which were terrible in the old stadium. The most important improvement, however, is the increased revenues that will help SDSU take the program to the next level.
The Aztecs used to play in the gigantic post-apocalyptic ruins called “The Q,” and doing so severely limited their revenue making opportunities. While they received a favorable rental deal in the early days of the Hoke-Long era, they were required to pay near market value for the final two years of their stay. After all was said and done, their costs were approximately $247k per game which included all revenue associated with parking and concessions. The stadium was a dump costing the City of San Diego anywhere from $6 to $10 million to maintain (depending on your accounting system), and stadium naming rights fees went to the city to help offset these costs. The city also received all ancillary revenue from concerts, soccer matches, and the Holiday Bowl. Only the most ardent supporters of the program would dare pay for the dilapidated “luxury boxes”, and seats were some of the least expensive in all of college football.
The (CSU) Rams Climbed the Mountain of Uncertainty
All of this will change in 2022 when the Aztecs open their new $350 million stadium. The only running costs associated with the stadium will be interest payments on the $310 million loan (estimated at $10.5 million per year) and maintenance costs (estimated at $3 million per year).
In return for these increased costs, SDSU will gain revenue from higher ticket prices, concessions and parking, stadium naming rights, premium seating options, and ancillary events. Will it be enough?
To help answer this question during the great Soccer City/SDSU West debate, we looked to the new 35,000 seat stadium built by Colorado State. The answer was a clear “Hell, Yes!” even if naysayers at the time were skeptical.
Their new stadium project brought in over $60 million in donations their university uses as an emergency fund while their stadium brought in upwards of $21 million per year which more than covers their costs. The CSU athletic department revenues also jumped by approximately $15 million per year according to USA Today.
El Dorado is Real
The mythical “City of Gold” was in Mission Valley all along. There are quite a few advantages the County of San Diego has over the greater Fort Collins, Colorado area; namely about 3 million people. With a potential market size 10 times greater than Colorado State, San Diego State will be able to draw more fans at higher ticket prices, fill more luxury boxes, charge more for naming rights, and more importantly hold more ancillary events. As such, we should expect the new stadium to bring in more than CSU’s $21 million per year.
The best guess estimate for SDSU’s new revenue is presented in the table below. The first several rows are associated with ticket sales. We know there will be approximately 688 Loge and 1,950 Club seats at $4,000 and $2,500 per seat, respectively. It’s assumed here that the student section is “The Show” and will contain 4,660 seats. The remaining estimates are “wild guesses” by this author.
Also included are the estimated revenues for the suites, naming rights, parking and concessions, and ancillary events. The estimates for each are noted in the “Comments” column. Special thanks to “fowl” on the message boards for noting that concessions are usually 35 to 50% of ticket prices. 35% is used here. Also even though the Aztecs paid $267k/game to rent the Q, it is assumed here that SDSU will charge others $100k per event. The total revenue per year is estimated at $29.4 million. Student fees from the addition of 15,000 students to SDSU due to the acquisition of the Mission Valley land will eventually increase athletic department revenues by $6.75 million, bringing the total increased revenue to the Athletic Department of $36.1 million per year. This estimate assumes sellouts in the new stadium. Feel free to provide a knockdown factor as you see fit.
Private donations have already exceeded $40 million, and seat licenses may generate perhaps up to $20 million or more in fixed costs ($30k per Loge seat is confirmed). The athletic department can use this money to pay the $40 million difference between the $350 million cost of the stadium and the $310 million loan, pay down the loan, save money for a rainy day fund, or perhaps all three.
How much does this increase the Athletic Department Budget?
To be conservative, the athletic department budget is estimated to increase by approximately $22.5 million by subtracting all current football team revenues from the $36.1 million total. The actual total will be more since not all football team revenue is stadium related, but then again maximizing the actual total will take time as the addition of 15,000 students will not happen for at least 10 years.
The increase in revenue will put the SDSU athletic department revenues at approximately $77 million – higher than any other G5 school (BYU is $73 million, Central Florida is $68 million). That number compares very favorably to many lower tier Power 5 schools such as Washington State ($72 million), Oregon State ($82 million), and even UC Berkeley ($87.5 million).
Note that quite a bit of SDSU’s revenues are generated by student fees (as are almost all G5 schools like Central Florida) which in this case counteracts the large TV contracts of the Power 5 schools. Also note that SDSU’s athletic department costs have also increased to pay for the stadium and stadium maintenance.
Remember, This Is All For Fun
While there are likely several bad assumptions in this article, it’s pretty clear that the new stadium is going to bring in quite a bit more revenue. That increase in revenue will put SDSU at or very near the top of the G5 pecking order and may surpass several lower tier Power 5 schools.
Note that the annual stadium revenue dwarfs the current Mountain West TV contract ($4 million/school) and it might be worthwhile for SDSU and perhaps the Mountain West Conference to try a different revenue model that emphasizes maximizing in-game attendance over late night TV games, but that’s probably another topic for another time.