On the latest Sporticast episode, hosts Scott Soshnick and Eben Novy-Williams speak with John Cunningham, athletic director at the University of Cincinnati, in the run-up to the Bearcats showdown against Alabama in the first College Football Playoff semifinal.
Cincinnati overcame long odds to become the first school from the five smaller FBS conferences to qualify for the playoffs. By most metrics, Michigan, Alabama and Georgia are three of the richest athletic departments in the country—with revenue and expense numbers that dwarf Cincinnati’s. As an example, Michigan ($50 million), Alabama ($36.9 million) and Georgia ($36.3 million) were all the Top 10 in football ticket revenue during the 2019 season. Cincinnati ranked No. 57 at $4.1 million.
Cunningham discusses how this historic football season will help the department financially. Ticket sales for next season have already produced waiting lists, and he says his conversations with donors are easier than ever. The Bearcats are in the middle of a $100 million fundraising campaign, which includes a new indoor practice facility and performance center. Down the line, he says, the school could look to expand the 40,000-seat Nippert Stadium.
Cunningham also talks about the school’s pending move to the Big 12, which he called a “seismic move” for the program. The Bearcats will see a much larger conference payout from the Big 12’s TV money, and in the next few years will be ramping up its spending in anticipation of competing with a new class of deeper-pocketed schools.
The trio also talk about a number of changes in college sports—new marketing rights for athletes, transfer changes, a market shift in apparel deals—and how they affect schools like Cincinnati.