This past week saw the arrival of a new leader on USA Today’s list of college athletic budget rankings. Texas A&M, which surpassed in-state rival Texas for greatest total NCAA revenue for the 2014-2015 year with $192,608,876, is a surprise atop the leaderboard due to the school’s staggering increase in received contributions. Ballooning nearly threefold from $36 million in 2014 to $92 million in 2015, Texas A&M might become a case study for athletic departments in how to expand revenue in a highly competitive market.
A Rapid Ascension
To get an idea of how remarkable Texas A&M’s ascension is, consider where it was in just 2011. Ranked 16th in the nation in athletic revenue, the Aggies generated a little more than $87 million. Coming-in with $150,295,926 rival Texas nearly doubled that figure (with $61 million in ticket sales alone!), and yet only four years later A&M has surpassed the Longhorns. Texas A&M’s ascension is impressive standing alone, but that the Aggies were able to carve-out their own niche in a state already dominated by the richest athletic program in America is all the more astonishing.
|Texas A&M NCAA Revenue by Year & Percent Change from Prior Year|
|Source: USA Today NCAA Finances|
How Did This Happen?
Looking at the above chart, one can point to Johnny Manziel’s winning the Heisman Trophy and Aggie football joining the SEC and coming to prominence in 2012 as important moments for the A&M athletic department. However, the absurd increase in revenue from 2014-2015 doesn’t correlate with a fantastic season for A&M’s largest program. In fact, the Aggies had their worst season in four years, losing their first bowl game under head coach Kevin Sumlin and finishing eighth in the SEC.
So what changed in the past two years that allowed for the impressive revenue growth seen in College Station?
- Ticket Sales: Texas A&M has continually increased ticket sales every year for eleven years straight, growing from $24,732,135 in 2005 to $45,825,167 in 2015. The Aggies sold over $9 million more in tickets in 2015 than 2014. That is by far the biggest growth in the category in over ten years.
- Rights and Licensing: Winning big in college’s biggest sport and joining the SEC both helped this category, which expanded from $19,652,799 in 2012 to $47,023,255 in 2015.
- Contributions: This is the category most responsible for pushing Texas A&M to the top of revenue lists. As previously mentioned, the explosion in contributions from 2014 to 2015 is unprecedented at A&M, with 150% growth in the category.
Can This Be Repeated or Replicated?
Texas A&M’s position atop revenue boards will certainly catch the eye of athletic department officials seeking to build their own brands in a similar fashion. However, imitation may be difficult for other schools. Gaining entry to the most dominant conference in college football, having a Heisman winner, and nearly-tripling contributions from one year to the next all allowed for a unique situation at Texas A&M. Duplicating that kind of success will be difficult.
In that same vein, Aggie supporters shouldn’t necessarily expect to remain king of the revenue hill for too long either. Had contributions only grown by 90% from 2014-2015 (still an impressive feat) instead of 150%, Texas A&M would fall to third in revenue behind Texas and Ohio State, with Michigan close on its heels.
To expect A&M to remain lead dog for years to come might be premature, but that doesn’t mean its athletic department shouldn’t celebrate a banner year; or that other administrations won’t be looking to emulate the kind of success seen of late in College Station.