ALBUQUERQUE — It was a victory in the form of black ink for the University of New Mexico Athletics Department.
UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez reported that his financially troubled department actually turned a profit in fiscal year 2019. He did so during a report Tuesday to the UNM Board of Regents’ Finance and Facilities Committee.
The catch? It took some help from the university in the form of subsidies from land proceeds and grant-in-aid programs, not to mention some serious belt tightening from UNM Athletics to put the department in the black to the tune of $116,546.
Ryan Berryman, associate athletic director for business operations, pointed out that it’s not much, but at least it’s not the glaring red digits that have become the norm in recent years.
“It’s a great sense of pride for the department, but in reality it’s less than half a percent of the total athletics budget,” Berryman said. “It’s a very small margin.”
The department’s total expenses for fiscal year 2019 tallied out at $32,341,751, just below the budget of $32,458,298.
As expected, ticket sales for men’s basketball and football in 2018-19 were down from preseason projections, while women’s basketball ticket sales were up slightly. Also down were contributions from the department’s media rights deal with Learfield IMG College and fees from the student body, the latter a reflection on UNM’s decreased enrollment and a move to further reduce those fees by the student government.
Facing a shortfall in excess of $1 million, the department got a boost covering nearly all of it from transfers to campus in the form of subsidies from land transfers at Mesa del Sol, as well as grant-in-aid from the university. That lump-sum transfer for nearly $1.36 million allowed the bottom line to be significantly swayed toward the black.
Helping in a small way was a hiring freeze that left vacant a number of administrative positions within the Athletics Department. Nuñez told the committee that the outlook for fiscal year 2020 hints at a growing need for additional transfers to make ends meet.
“Right now there is an indication that we’re going to need some to alleviate some of those unknowns,” Nuñez told the committee.
Nuñez counted it as a victory for a department that has bought in with the saving-at-all-costs approach in the wake of several years’ worth of money mismanagement and overspending.
“I also understand that there is some challenges still ahead of us,” he said. “To make some of the sacrifices that we’ve all made is good but it’s also come as an expense in other areas so we’ve got to be able to balance out the future opportunities as we move forward.”
Nuñez is optimistic that ticket sales will increase in football and men’s basketball this season. The football team has archrival New Mexico State among its six home games and the basketball team, which saw record-low attendance in The Pit last season, is undertaking an aggressive marketing strategy to win back fans.
He cited inflationary costs for travel as one reason for the difficulty in making ends meet. Same, too, for an ambitious 10-year projection that calls for an approximately 10 percent cut in the annual budget through fiscal year 2029 — all while continuing to pay down the debt service in The Pit renovations and the decade-long repayment plan for the department’s $4.7 million deficit reduction plan.
“Some subsidies are always going to be necessary,” Nuñez said. “To what level, we hope that we can streamline this as much as we can.”