Greg Hansen: New deal 'cataclysmic' - to a point

2011-05-06T00:00:00Z 2011-05-06T00:16:28Z Greg Hansen: New deal 'cataclysmic' - to a pointGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 06, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Displayed prominently, and somewhat strikingly, in Greg Byrne's McKale Center office is a large portrait of the UA football team's first Wildcat Walk: players and coaches snaking through thousands of red-clad fans.

Byrne paid for the frame with a 70 percent off coupon from his executive assistant, Brenda Filippeli.

Such was the way of life for those schools in the Pac-10 not named USC and Oregon.

But now Byrne no longer has to cash in coupons to balance Arizona's athletic budget; beginning next year, the Wildcats will start to receive checks that over the next 12 years could amount to roughly $250 million from ESPN and Fox.

It is a deal of such scope that it reads like a Hollywood marketing campaign.

"Cataclysmic," said ASU director of athletics Lisa Love.

"Transformational," said Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby.

"It's all blue sky," said Utah AD Chris Hill.

"Exceeds my expectations," said Washington AD Scott Woodward.

Byrne referred to the media rights package as "historic," but he also ate lunch in his office Thursday, out of a brown bag, as if to suggest the Pac-12's TV deal is not the birth of financial freedom.

Arizona won't be creating a wrestling team, Oregon State won't reinstate its track and field program, Wazzu won't add softball, and Colorado won't field a baseball team.

If you don't have a Nike-backed Legacy Fund, as the Oregon Ducks do, and if you don't generate about $70 million a year in football revenues, as USC can, it's still about nickels and dimes in the Pac-12. Every school in the league has a staggering debt service.

Byrne has raised about $30 million for the UA's North End Project at Arizona Stadium, a project that will ultimately cost about $85 million. Every Pac-12 partner has similar debt related to facilities.

"The new money will not solve our issues," said Byrne. "We still need the generosity of our donors. We still need to grow the Wildcat Club. And we still need to sell as many season tickets as possible. The reality is, if we don't plan wisely, that money will be gone."

Byrne is about to spend $350,000 to put new lights at the UA's soccer field.

Hillenbrand Stadium, once a softball palace, needs a face lift to keep pace with the nation's top softball plants.

Kindall/Sancet Stadium could use a baseball clubhouse and a structure to provide shade, and that's just the start of the must-be-improved list.

The traditionally prominent UA golf teams are among the only elite teams in the nation without a 21st century practice facility.

The concessions areas and restroom facilities at Arizona Stadium are about as modern as a John Wayne movie. Remodeling them will cost tens of millions of dollars.

"Costs are going to go up, and our opponents will improve their facilities," said Byrne. "If you fall behind, you'll be in competitive trouble in a heartbeat."

Here's one of the first increased costs: Byrne estimates it will cost about $40,000 for Sean Miller's basketball team to charter a plane to, say, a Wednesday night ESPN game at Stanford, then ferry the team home in time for classes the next morning. Traditionally, airfare for the annual Thursday-Saturday Stanford-Cal trip costs about $6,000. Under the new TV deal, basketball scheduling will spread across the week.

But now there is no longer a daily worry of going broke, eliminating a men's sport or going deeper into debt. Former UA athletic director Jim Livengood once described the school's financial future as "scary."

Now it's secure, within reason.

As recently as last fall, some in the Pac-10 fretted about commissioner Larry Scott's spending, of which each school paid a share. No one in the league had ever spent money the way he spent money.

His preseason football blitz of East Coast media markets was estimated to cost about $750,000. He flies in private jets, hires drivers rather than rents cars, stays in 5-star hotels and has billeted the league at only the trendiest facilities. The announcement of the ESPN/Fox deal, for example, took place at the fashionable Biltmore hotel in Phoenix.

Scott hired high-priced help across the board, tapping into the NFL, the NBA, the Big Ten and other big-league precincts to totally reorganize the league's high command. He hired a VP for Public Affairs, a VP for Business Affairs, a Digital Media Manager, a Chief Operating Officer and on and on.

Since Scott took charge, the front office payroll has surely grown by about $2 million a year, or more.

But now we see there was a method to the spending. When Pac-10 presidents and chancellors gave Scott fiscal autonomy, they asked him to achieve two objectives: increase revenues and improve awareness.

Scott performed so ably in everything - from creating a new identity and putting money in everybody's pockets - that schools like Arizona will now be able to afford new lights for the women's soccer field without worrying about breaking the budget.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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