Ohio State students paid $32 per ticket for home football games last season. The OSU Athletic Department spent more than $1.3 million a game to host them.
The department spent nearly $9.4 million on the 2009 season. That figure would have covered the cost of tuition for nearly 1,000 in-state students.
The department made almost $31.4 million on games last year, good for nearly $4.5 million a game. Department officials said they expect similar numbers for expenses and revenue for the 2010 season.
Profits from each game remain relatively constant throughout the season, but the expenses vary drastically, even though the price tag per game covers similar services. The difference between the most expensive game for the athletic department, Navy, and the least expensive, University of Southern California, was $945,784.
Because of agreements with contractors, the cost of electricity, cleanup services and payments to game officials is fixed. The disparity in overall cost comes largely from game guarantees.
These guarantees — the amount the athletic department pays visiting schools — are usually negotiated by the athletic director.
“If it was a home-and-home situation like USC was, the guarantees are usually significantly less,” said Pete Hagan, associate athletic director of finance. OSU played at USC in 2008 before the Trojans came to Ohio Stadium last season, meaning the schools essentially traded game guarantees.
“The Navy one was higher because there was some glitch in the schedule that … required us to go out and give them a much higher guarantee to get them in here,” he said.
Hagan said those types of scheduling problems are rare but would not disclose precisely what the “glitch” was.
In the Big Ten, the more profitable teams — such as OSU — are required to distribute $1 million to opponents for home conference games, Hagan said.
Removing game guarantees from the equation, the USC game cost the university $88,968 more than any other contest, looking at only operating expenses. That variation stems primarily from kickoff times.
“The only thing that really affects the expense side is if it’s a noon game, a 3:30 (p.m.) start or a night game,” Hagan said. “A lot of the security and traffic control … has to start for a night game early in the morning just like a regular game would.”
The USC game kicked off at 8 p.m.
Those traffic control and security costs constitute the two largest portions of the operational expenses for a given game. OSU spent just more than $1.4 million on security and traffic and parking for the 2009 season.
By comparison, the University of Nebraska spent nearly $849,000 on those areas last season, and the University of Iowa expects to spend $975,000 on security and traffic in 2010.
Don Patko, OSU’s associate athletic director of facilities management, said the university ultimately benefits from the money spent.
“Between in-bound and out-bound (traffic), we are second to none … in and out. For 102,000 fans in an urban setting, we’re one of the best,” he said, sitting in his office inside the stadium.
The stadium holds 102,329 people. With that many people clustered in one area, security becomes another major factor, officials said.
“We know that Ohio Stadium is a desirable target for the bad guys so we do everything that we can … to protect our fans,” said Ben Jay, associate athletic director of finance and operations.
Officials said that, to protect visitors and athletes, the university works with about a dozen law enforcement agencies to secure the stadium and surrounding areas. Though officials would not say exactly which agencies are involved, it includes Columbus Police, OSU Police, the State Highway Patrol, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the Columbus Fire Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
For each agency, OSU is “at the mercy” of its union when it comes to cost, Hagan said.
“Ohio State is looked at as the leader in this type of security business,” Patko said. “We’ve got to be the best secured stadium in the country.”
Megan Schneider, a third-year in nursing, has attended football games at the University of Illinois in addition to OSU and noticed a difference in the level of security.
In Illinois, “I still felt secure, but it wasn’t quite as intense as Ohio State,” she said.
Molly Shlaes, a third-year in civil engineering, has attended games at Ohio Stadium and the University of Iowa.
“Around the stadium, I would say there’s a lot more (security) here,” she said, “because the streets surrounding are bigger than the streets surrounding at Iowa, so they have to direct more traffic.”
OSU officials said the security effort for home football games is such a smooth operation that other universities use OSU’s model as the standard.
“About a year ago, the Department of Homeland Security partnered with the university creating a video that’s used as a training module for other venues on how to set up security at their stadiums,” said Tom McGinnis, assistant athletic director of administration and human resources.
The video was federally funded through the Urban Area Security Initiative, said OSU Police Chief Paul Denton, in an e-mail.
The stadium’s clean-up operation is another area that officials think sets OSU apart.
“We probably have the lowest cleanup cost in the country,” Patko said. “A lot of stadiums go $15 (thousand) to $20 (thousand) in just power washing and trash removal, where that has been stabilized at about $7,100.”
Total cleanup expenses at other universities are often around $50,000 a game, he said.
The University of Georgia, whose stadium seats 10,000 fewer fans than Ohio Stadium, spent about $40,000 per game on cleanup costs last year.
Lower clean-up costs are largely tied to a 43-year relationship with the university ROTC, which works alongside student employees Sunday mornings to clean the stadium. The cooperation leads not only to lower costs, but also rapid turnaround.
“By 10:30 or 11 a.m. Sunday morning, we are ready for a meeting, another game, an event or anything inside” the stadium, Patko said.
Though the post-game cleaning saves the department money, cleaning during games, especially in restrooms, is costly.
“We have specific crews that have to hit those areas at strategic times during a game,” Patko said.
The effort of the athletic department to increase recycling efforts has also resulted in higher expenses.
“We are trying to get to zero waste, and that’s hard to do,” Patko said. “There’s some extra cost going to recycled products.”
Although the choice to recycle has increased expenses, officials said the athletic department is looking to cut costs in other areas.
“Cutting expenses, there are always ways to look at that,” Patko said. “If you cut expenses you’ve got to defer something.”
Officials are wary, though, to cut corners by hiring fewer staff members.
“You could save it on not having so much personnel here,” Patko said. “But personnel things can create a risk.”
Although officials gave their program ample praise, they wouldn’t compare their facilities to the most prestigious football venues.
“We’re not at the pro level. The pro level is the Cadillac,” Patko said. But “we’re probably giving the folks a little more service than some of the better schools.”
Ultimately, some said, comparing Ohio Stadium to others around the country is difficult.
“It’s very hard to compare us even to some of the major big-school programs around the country,” Jay said. “We’re a different animal than everybody else.”
The differences arise because of the stadium’s size and location, he said. The urban surrounding in Columbus is rare for college stadiums.
The other universities whose stadiums make up the five largest in the country, University of Michigan, Penn
State University, University of Tennessee and the University of Alabama, are all in lower-populated areas. Columbus also has more than four times as many people as the cities where those schools are located.
Officials toyed with Penn State and the University of Texas for size comparison but had difficulties coming up with college venues that matched Ohio Stadium in both capacity and surrounding population.
“As far as (college) stadiums of our size around the country, we’re second to none,” Patko said. “Of the stadiums over 100,000 in North America, it would be Dallas Cowboys in pro and then Ohio State.”