Arizona’s six-game run to the WNIT championship last season didn’t just bring the Wildcats momentum, exposure and future season-ticket sales.
It also generated a six-figure profit for the normally unprofitable UA women’s basketball program.
According to financial records obtained by the Star via a public records request, Arizona earned a net profit of $106,051 from its six-game run through the WNIT while exceeding the minimum guarantees it contracted to pay tournament operator Triple Crown Sports, Inc.
After playing all six games at home during the WNIT, Arizona paid Triple Crown a total of $227,468 — including $71,769 for its sold-out championship game win over Northwestern on April 6. It pulled in $333,519 in total revenue.
The minimum guarantees to Triple Crown increased every game, from $6,500 for Round 1 to $20,000 for the championship, but healthy attendance meant Arizona paid far more than those figures. UA paid Triple Crown under a formula that sent the firm 85% of the first $30,000 in net revenue plus 55% of the amount over $30,000.
While messages to three Triple Crown officials went unanswered Friday, it’s clear that Arizona’s WNIT run was a success.
WNIT games have been normally considered a break-even affair at best for schools, more about the exposure and development than money. Rarely do teams profit the way the UA did. Athletic director Dave Heeke did not return a message seeking comment Friday afternoon after the WNIT records were sent to the Star. He told the Star last month that attendance, revenue and excitement were all factors in UA’s ability to stay at home throughout the entire tournament.
UA women’s coach Adia Barnes marketed the team’s games via social media, while Barnes, Heeke, UA football coach Kevin Sumlin and former UA men’s players Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Solomon Hill were among those buying and donating tickets.
“The WNIT was looking for electric places,” Heeke said. “I give credit to Adia, the players and the fan base for making the WNIT so exciting.
“We wanted to make sure we were financially competitive.”
A big key for Arizona was being able to host Wyoming for a quarterfinal game on Sunday, March 31. The Wildcats were in danger of being shipped to Laramie, Wyoming, to play the game that weekend before a potentially strong crowd after beating Idaho on the previous Thursday.
Arizona agreed to pay the $15,000 guarantee for the Wyoming game, plus an extra $10,000 per game on top of the percentage-based fees if it hosted the Wyoming game, the semifinal and the final.
UA wound up drawing 7,717 fans for its 67-45 win over Wyoming, far exceeding the $15,000 guarantee again. It wound up paying $41,852 for that game, including the extra $10,000, then paid a total of $57,565 for its semifinal win over TCU and $76,769 for the championship game.
The total of $30,000 in extra fees paid to Triple Crown was taken out of UA’s concession revenue. UA did not state what its concession revenue was, and a message seeking clarification was not returned.
General admission ticket prices for Arizona’s WNIT games ranged from $8 for the early games to $10 for the championship game, which drew an announced crowd of 14,644.
For the entire six-game run, Arizona reported $229,599 in general admission and discounted general admission sales, plus $69,978 for reserved seats, $8,280 for student seats and $25,622 for group sales. It counted the $30,000 pulled from concessions as “other revenue” and then put the same amount in the expenses paid to Triple Crown.
On an annual basis, only football and men’s basketball generate profits at Arizona. During the 2017-18 fiscal year, the most recent figures that are publicly available, UA reported a net loss of $2.15 million for women’s basketball, counting $2.8 million in expenses and $657,000 in revenue.
Over the past five fiscal years, Arizona reported an average annual loss of $2.4 million for women’s basketball, according to figures filed with the U.S. Department of Education.
But the revenue generated by the women’s basketball program increased 15 percent from Barnes’ first year of 2016-17 to her second season of 2017-18, and is likely to jump again in 2018-19, thanks in part to the Wildcats’ WNIT run.