Column: No money, more problems

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UConn Athletics needs to figure out how to generate more money. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

UConn Athletics needs to figure out how to generate more money. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

There are four general public entrance areas to Gampel Pavilion, which means that in the near future there needs to be at least four, if not eight, or maybe 12, DraftKings or name-your-vendor betting kiosks dotted around those locations. Fans attending an event at Gampel could stop to lay down some action before or after they buy a beer or other alcoholic beverage. “Vices” on a college campus? I believe a more apt term would be “revenue generators.”

In lieu of the Hartford Courant’s report of a 41-million-dollar difference between expenditures and revenues within UConn Athletics, the department needs to do everything it can to staunch the bleeding, and it needs to do it now.

I’m not sure beer and sports betting make up 41 million dollars, but they’re a start. It’s noble to want to have a dry arena on campus. Yet I am willing to bet David Benedict and Co. have been to other sporting events, including those at Gampel’s sister venue, the XL Center, where they’ve noticed beer is quite a popular product. It would be a profitable endeavor.

Sports betting is the new kid on the scene, and people are still trying to figure him out before getting too close. For all the news about the places who have jumped right in, there are many more who are resistant or, like Connecticut, stagnant. That’s the wrong approach. Being first matters. Some of the most valuable companies in the world got there simply by being both intrepid and unconcerned with regard to parameters perhaps requiring caution. The sports betting market is raw and ready to be cultivated favorably.

I don’t know what the Connecticut legislature has in store for legalized sports betting, but I know the UConn administration better be lobbying their butt off to get a cut. Rhode Island’s law forbids betting on Rhode Island-based teams. Connecticut’s law needs to send a cut of the action on UConn to UConn. Mobile betting is seen as the future, but some people like a tangible experience. Getting kiosks to print tickets in Gampel, where UConn can lop fees off the top, would be an innovative and pioneering approach. Let the kiosks take traditional bets, but also provide in-game wagering on the game at hand if you are feeling bold.

No one is trying to turn Gampel into a casino, but let’s look at this one on a fundamental level. Why not do this? Other sports entities are leery of sports betting, but that doesn’t mean UConn has to be. Benedict clearly isn’t scared; it has been established that UConn was among several schools who spoke with Major League Baseball about revenue generation on sports betting, particularly the notion of kickbacks on UConn bet contests. However, they weren’t alone. Might as well be first and become a leader in this sphere. If you’re in a deep hole, you are going to need something more than basic cuts and sponsorships to get out.

Speaking of sponsorships, I imagine there is an NCAA rule or bylaw prohibiting it, but I would hope to see UConn embrace jersey patch sponsors like the NBA and international soccer clubs do. Yes, it is more commercialism on top of the whole fraudulent amateurism thing, but UConn can’t really worry about that right now. Forty-one million dollars, 8.5 million subsidy in student fees—it is just not sustainable. Is anyone going to be overly upset or jaded because there’s a little Aetna or Pratt and Whitney insignia on the shoulder? UConn basketball is quite visible. If a deal can be cut, do it.

The new on-court ads for Genius 3D, a mammogram company of all things, lack panache, but as long as the check clears, UConn shouldn’t care how uninspiring it is. Slap those suckers everywhere, aesthetics be damned: on the new soccer field, if allowed; underneath the surface of the ice on the new rink (oh wait, we won’t own it). I’m not sure the value of playing service advertisements will make a major dent, but one step at a time. It’s not selling out if you need the funds, especially not if you can show a little ingenuity doing it.

What really needs to be cut, our cut out rather, is UConn’s participation in the American Athletic Conference TV deal. I won’t hash it all out here, but folks, comparatively, not great. #Power6 it is not. I do not know the valuation UConn athletics could find on the market, but UConn basketball is a renown brand. Is it at all possible cutting an independent deal like Notre Dame football would be more lucrative, even if it’s with an industry disruptor like DAZN? I might just be too uninformed on the matter, but it seems like something that must be explored.

UConn football is not going back to the Fiesta Bowl any time soon. Taking a million here or there to get punched in the mouth like they will by Clemson in a couple years seems like a must for UConn football. Buy games season after season are going to be a survival mechanism. Obviously, getting out of the American would potentially bring a reduced travel budget.

Other sports are going to have to eliminate costs or be eliminated entirely, as Benedict alluded to recently. I would hate to see it, but there’s just not a lot of sense in sponsoring a swimming program when it cuts into the competitiveness of football or basketball, in my opinion.

Trimming athletic departments is the trendy approach, but perhaps UConn could instead grow. In 2016 the UConn League of Legends team made the Heroes of the Dorm Final Four, which earned them an appearance on ESPNU and some media publicity. I am not an e-Sports fan, nor do I understand the growth potential, but people who are purportedly a lot smarter than I am do, a la Mark Cuban and the NBA at large, investing gobs of their cash in anticipation of a boom in video game playing and content consumption. It is undeniable younger generations as well as matured segments of populations in Eastern countries are already big fans. It is even potentially going to become an Olympic sport. UConn could get in at the bottom level, while things are still nascent, and by the time e-sports are mainstream, UConn could be a juggernaut in the sport like they are in women’s basketball.

The Aspire Group partnership has not worked in the slightest. As Twitter critics will point out, ticket prices are not competitive and downright asinine when it comes to meeting the budget of more recent alumni, nor are they well marketed. Tulane came for a game this past weekend with Chinese national Kevin Zhang, a prime opportunity to recruit the large cohort of wealthy international students who don’t go all the way home for winter break. Kind of like how the Boston Celtics have “Asian-American Night” every time Jeremy Lin comes to town. Nothing. The Ice Bus, which will never reap massive sums of money, is playing teams like RPI when it needs to be hosting name-brand Big Ten schools like Wisconsin or Michigan. Those in charge of getting butts in seats seem overly reliant on the notion that it is a UConn game so UConn fans will come, not doing any extra to create additional appeal.

Storrs is not Silicon Valley, and the offices in Gampel aren’t as luxurious or progressively designed as the Googleplex, but Benedict and his coalition need to innovate, disrupt and iterate all the same. The mainstream approaches aren’t going to save them, creativity will. Odds on a balanced budget in the future, anyone?


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.

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