Despite the recent scandals and missing out on the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years, the Louisville Basketball program is still the most profitable program in the country.
According to a recent Forbes Sports Money Group study, Louisville generated $23 million in profit last year, making it more profitable than the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Charlotte Hornets.
Meanwhile, the Louisville Cardinals have made the NCAA Tournament just once in the past three seasons—a second-round exit in 2017—and have been mired in the fallout from a prostitution scandal and FBI investigation. But they rank No. 1 on our list, and no college basketball team makes more money. Louisville turned $23 million in profit last year, making it more profitable than the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Charlotte Hornets.
From the 2014-15 season through the 2016-17 one, Louisville basketball averaged annual revenues of $52 million and profits of $30 million; across those three seasons, just four other college teams had more than $30 million in average revenue. The Cardinals play at the state-of-the-art KFC Yum! Center, the third-biggest arena in college basketball. Between that home arena and the nation’s second-most-valuable apparel deal ($11 million annually from Adidas), Louisville leads the field in revenue from royalties and sponsorships. Last season the team ranked third in total home game attendance despite a mediocre on-court performance; ticket sales totaled $14 million.
Our ranking of college basketball’s most-valuable teams is based on three-year average revenues across the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons (ties in revenue were broken using average profits). To determine team revenues and expenses, we relied on annual filings made by each school’s athletic department to the NCAA and the Department of Education. We also made adjustments to individual line items like contributions, media rights and sponsorships to adjust for differences in accounting practices among athletic departments. (The three private schools on our list—Duke, Syracuse and Marquette—declined to share financial details beyond those published by the Department of Education.)
Each team’s conference earns a tournament unit for every game played, excluding the championship and any first-round games played by conference champions. Those units have a six-year shelf life, and they’re currently worth around $275,000 per year (the value increases slightly each year).