Maryland looking for ways to boost revenue from basketball team, Comcast Center


Strong performances from Coach Mark Turgeon and the Maryland men’s basketball team would help raise much-needed money for the school’s athletics department. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)
January 13, 2012

There are a number of ways in which Mark Turgeon will be judged during his tenure as the men’s basketball coach at Maryland. The most obvious: His teams’ win-loss record, postseason performance, recruiting profile and graduation rates.

But given the dire financial condition of Maryland’s athletics department, whose annual deficit is projected to approach $2.8 million this fiscal year, Turgeon’s ability to turn the men’s basketball program into a more lucrative money-maker — chiefly by attracting a bigger, more energized fan base — will no doubt be a component of his performance evaluation, too.

Turgeon inherited a team that missed the NCAA and National Invitation tournaments last season and saw three of four recruits renegefollowing Gary Williams’s resignation. He also joined a program that was on the decline in its money-making capacity, with net revenues for men’s basketball down 33.6 percent over the previous six seasons — from $6.75 million in 2006 to $4.48 million last fiscal year.

Even in its current down cycle, however, Maryland men’s basketball still pays the freight for much of the athletics department — generating more profit than any program on campus, football included. In fact, in fiscal 2010 (the last year in which a direct comparison was available), the net revenue for Maryland men’s basketball was more than three times that of football — roughly $5.7 million compared with $1.8 million.

But with the department’s cumulative deficit on track to top $14.6 million in 2016 if left unchecked, Maryland President Wallace Loh announced in November that eight of the school’s 27 varsity teams will be dropped. Even with those cutbacks, according to a report compiled by the President’s Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, the department’s return to solvency depends on the ability of football and men’s basketball to generate more money.

“Both teams are currently in low ebb,” the report noted, “but the Commission is confident that both teams will become nationally competitive in the coming years.”

So as Turgeon focuses on his first ACC season, there are other initiatives underway to boost revenue from both the basketball program and the stadium in which it plays.

Among them: a plan, advocated by the commission appointed by Loh, to retrofit the roof of the 17,950-seat Comcast Center with steel rigging so it can host large-scale concerts when not used for basketball games. According to Nate Pine, Maryland’s senior associate athletic director, university officials have talked with promoters who would foot the roughly $500,000 construction cost of such a project.

But it’s hardly a slam dunk.

Prince George’s County levies an amusement tax on concerts — a fee that isn’t assessed promoters who stage events at Washington’s Verizon Center — making it tough for Comcast Center to compete for headline events.

“That’s a significant challenge,” Pine concedes.

Maryland officials also would like to increase corporate signage inside the building, Pine said, possibly upgrading video boards and the scoreboard and adding scrolling “ribbons” of ads between the upper and lower decks.

And this spring, Maryland will launch a “re-seating campaign” at Comcast Center, inviting season ticket holders to increase their donations in order to upgrade their seats. Such re-seating campaigns, Pine says, could bring in $500,000 to $1 million. The advertising campaign is being drafted now and will include an Internet-based “calculator” so fans can see how they rank in terms of donations and seating priority.

To that end, Maryland officials hope that the Terrapins are generating excitement come the campaign’s rollout in the spring and see greater value in a home schedule that will soon include Syracuse and Pittsburgh when the ACC expands.

“By default, we’re going to have a better home schedule,” Pine said.

Along with that, officials would like to strengthen the Terrapins’ nonconference schedule when the time is right.

“We want to make sure it’s a great season ticket,” Pine said.

And that brings up the perennial question of a home-and-home series with Georgetown — something that would benefit both schools’ bottom lines, with almost guaranteed strong attendance and minimal travel costs for the visitor. The Terrapins and Hoyas haven’t played at a local venue since November 1993 at Capital Centre, then Georgetown’s home court.

“We see value in that relationship,” Pine said of a potential series with Georgetown. “We’d like to entertain it, if there is interest on both sides. There could be a significant upside.”

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