Cardinal Basketball

Analyzing Louisville’s Latest Financial Figures

Andy Lyons | Getty Images

Andy Lyons | Getty Images

By now you’ve probably heard the word that Louisville athletics was placed 18th in USA Today’s annual college sports financial database. This is just another step in the Cardinals transformation from athletic blunder to national powerhouse. But beyond just that figure lies a lot of interesting information, both surrounding Louisville and relating it to its future ACC companions.

So let’s take a look shall we.

An Introduction

School Total Revenue Total Expenses Total Subsidy % Subsidy
Louisville $96,193,330 $92,383,221 $10,914,122 11.35


Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s go over each figure. The total revenue represents every dollar Louisville athletics took in: ticket sales, TV rights, etc. The total expenses represent every dollar Louisville paid out: salaries, scholarships, upkeep, etc.  Total subsidy has been the topic of a lot of controversy, and we will get to that later. The total subsidy is 11.35% of the total revenue.

Alright so now that we have that understanding out of the way let’s cut into this juicy report.

Total Revenue

As I’ve mentioned total revenue involves all sources of incoming funds for the university. Louisville not only ranked 18th of the 225 schools listed, but it also ranked highest among the eight ACC schools listed. (Note: Private schools like Duke and Notre Dame don’t have to release this data, thus only eight ACC schools coughed it up.)

Here’s how that revenue looks broken down.



Louisville $25,888,524 $28,935,662 $23,383,096 $1,926,432 $8,987,690 $7,071,926 $96,193,330


As you can see contributions make up the largest part of the revenue. These contributions include the donations from individuals, companies, associations, etc. For Louisville, this is mostly involving the university’s Cardinal Athletic Fund that individuals must may into to keep their seats. Initiatives like the CAF are very common, but Louisville is only one of two of the ACC schools listed that lists contributions as its highest source of revenue.

The rights/licensing figure includes Louisville’s conference television rights, which with the AAC was only about $2 million annually. It’s important to note that figure will leap to over $20 million annually while in the ACC. Add the Adidas deal, and Louisville is looking at about $25 million in increased revenue next season.


The student fees and school funds categories make up the subsidies portion in the overview report. This has been the subject of controversy since the figures were released. With some assuming the subsidies included tax breaks from the University.

USA Today defines subsidies as:

“The sum of student fees, direct and indirect institutional support and state money. The NCAA and others consider such funds “allocated” or everything not generated by the department’s athletics functions.”

While that’s correct it doesn’t give a give a good idea of what Louisville’s “school funds” truly are. College sports business expert Kristi Dosh explained Thursday in a blog on the subject:

“Since out-of-state tuition is largely an up-charge, and not indicative of additional costs to the university, some universities provide tuition waivers to allow out-of-state student-athletes to be treated as in-state students. This can show up in a couple of different ways on athletic department financials: as a payment (a sort of refund) to the athletic department from the university or as a reduction in expense for the athletic department if the money is deducted before payment is sent to the university. Almost all athletic departments who receive these waivers use the former method, showing it as revenue categorized as direct institutional support.”

This situation is the case at Louisville, as all athletes receive in-state tuition. While this isn’t as prevalent in the big sports like basketball and football, for all of Louisville’s smaller sports it happens frequently. If you have any kind of partial scholarship, the rest of your cost is subsidized, and that number is reflected in the school cost figure. Some schools may not have subsidy figures, but given how prevalent this practice is the number may show up elsewhere.

In the case of the student fees, every Louisville student pays a $50 “Student Athletics Fee.” This isn’t an uncommon practice, but it is fair to say that UofL could go without it–especially with the increase in revenue coming via the ACC and Adidas.

Revenue Over Time


As you can see the increase in revenue had been pretty steady over time until 2011. That is the year just after the KFC Yum! Center was opened and Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium completed its 13,000 seat expansion. However it wasn’t the increased ticket sales that spurred revenue, it was an increase in contributions.


When the KFC Yum! Center opened, seating was decided via Cardinal Athletic Fund points, which involved donations. Many fans took advantage and increased their commitments to the fund that makes up most of the Athletics department’s coffers. That increase helped raise the total revenue an incredible $12 million. Because so many of Louisville’s season tickets come with a required annual contribution, that area of revenue has remained tops.



In total expenses Louisville falls a spot and ranks 19th nationally. Cardinal athletics still ranks at the top of the ACC schools listed, but the margin is a bit smaller.

Louisville $33,116,865 $10,112,951 $8,632,419 $40,520,986 $92,383,221

By now I’m sure you’re asking…”What is other?”

Here is how the USA Today defines “other” expenses:

Includes guarantees paid to other schools, severance payments to past coaches and staff, recruiting, team travel, equipment and uniforms, game day and camp expenses, fundraising and marketing costs, spirit group support, medical expense/insurance and conference dues. It also includes expenses charged to athletics by the university, such as building maintenance.

We can at this point assume that the majority of Louisville’s “other” expenses are marketing and fundraising related. This includes all the billboards, commercials, and other advertisements you may see. It also includes the many Cardinal Athletic Fund mailers or phone calls you may get.

Expenses over Time


The rise in expenses for the program mirrors the increase in revenue. Expenses see a steady growth until 2011, where they jump dramatically by $20 million. We can assume that it’s related to the major events we’ve already mentioned in that year. But how so?


The “other” expenses category looks to be the biggest culprit for the increase in expenses. We see a $13 million increase in the category between 2010 and 2011. We can probably attribute the increase in “other” expenses to the increased push for fundraising and marketing costs. With the opening of the two new and improved facilities, there was a lot of marketing money spent to make those a success.

The other two culprits for the increase in expenses are an over $3.5 million increase in staff costs (mostly a big extension for then rising football Coach Charlie Strong) and an expected increase of facility maintenance costs of about $4 million.

Comparison to ACC Counterparts

This is the part that everyone likes to see, how Louisville stacks up next to its future counterparts.


As we mentioned the Cardinals are one of only two ACC schools where contributions are the biggest amount of revenues (Virginia is the other.) However, I have a strong feeling that Notre Dame and Duke might tell similar stories considering their passionate alumni bases.

I think what these figures show more than anything is just how well off Louisville is about to be. ESPN reported on Friday that the ACC school payouts had surpassed $20 million. This number is 10 times the amount Louisville received from the AAC. Add that with the increased Adidas money, and Louisville is looking at a massive windfall.


Louisville vs. Florida State Revenue Breakdown

FSU is probably the school Louisville would most like to emulate athletically, so comparing our revenue figures to them shows the key differences between us. What immediately jumps out is how much right/licensing is a part of their revenue. While that will be better for Louisville in the ACC, it may not be possible for the Cardinals to have the massive fan base that Florida State has. But what Louisville lacks in licensing it has made up for in contributions, an amazing feat for a school that was in Conference USA just 10 years ago.

Comparison with Kentucky

Just behind Louisville on the revenue rankings was arch-rival Kentucky. The Wildcats still maintain an incredibly successful athletic program, and despite the failures of their football team still gain plenty of revenue from it.


The Kentucky revenue has mostly risen steadily, but Louisville nearly surpassed them in 2007. There appears to be a clear relationship between the failures of the Steve Kragthorpe era in Louisville Football, and the stalling growth in revenue. With the advent of the success Charlie Strong brought back to the program, Louisville began to shine again both on the field and off.

Louisville Vs Kentucky Revenue Breakdown

Just like when compared to Florida State, it becomes clear how incredible the contributions machine for Louisville has been when you compare it to a comparable program. Kentucky has the benefit of the massive SEC TV contract, and will likely see even more income with the SEC Network coming this year. Louisville will also benefit from increased funs, so it will be interesting to see how these two programs grow in the future.

Major Takeaways

1. Louisville is poised for massive growth in the ACC.

As we’ve mentioned many times the huge increase in rights/licensing money will be a big deal for Louisville athletics. The second expansion that has been talked about for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium could become reality very very soon if the growth continues to come. If Bobby Petrino can succeed in Louisville again; there is no question that bigger and better things are on the way for Louisville Athletics.

2. Don’t believe the subsidy criticism.

The vast majority of schools have subsidies. While some may list them different ways in their budgets, they all offer some kind of subsidies for student-athletes without a full scholarship. The talking heads who used this report as a chance to point out how much help Louisville is getting don’t understand the whole story.


3. It’s time to remove the student fees.

The Louisville athletic department is self-sufficient enough to do without money from each individual student. While there was only one school in the ACC listed without the student fees, eight of the top ten programs do not have them. Honestly, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the big five conferences banned them in general.

You can find all of the college sports financial information on USA Today.

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