TSSAA: De­cline in foot­ball play­off rev­enue

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports - Tom Krea­ger Nashville Tennessean USA TODAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

A sig­nif­i­cant drop in high school foot­ball play­off at­ten­dance and rev­enue from the 2018 sea­son has put the TSSAA in "belt-tight­en­ing mode."

High school foot­ball play­off gross re­ceipts were down $233,312 or 14.4 per­cent while play­off at­ten­dance prior to the cham­pi­onships was down 29,914 from 2017.

Gross re­ceipts to­taled $1,382,426 in 2018, down from $1,615,738 a year ear­lier. That's also the low­est amount for the high school foot­ball play­offs lead­ing up to the cham­pi­onships since 2008 — when the TSSAA had two fewer clas­si­fi­ca­tions.

The high school ath­letic as­so­ci­a­tion had seven classes in 2008 — five in Divi­sion I and two in Divi­sion II. It added a sixth Divi­sion I class in 2009 and a third DII class in 2017.

"With the num­ber of classes that we cur­rently have, when you are hav­ing play­off rounds with a No. 1 team playing a (No. 4 team seed­ing wise), peo­ple only have so much money to­ward entertainment," TSSAA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Bernard Chil­dress said. "They are more likely to say, 'Well, is that game even nec­es­sary? We're not even go­ing to that game be­cause we have the No. 1 team. They aren't go­ing to be knocked off.'"

To­tal at­ten­dance from the first round to the semi­fi­nals was 170,022. That's down from 199,936 in 2017, ac­cord­ing to num­bers re­leased to the TSSAA'S Board of Con­trol.

At­ten­dance for the cham­pi­onship games has not been re­leased. The TSSAA will re­ceive $253,000 from the Cookeville-put­nam County Cham­ber of Com­merce via its an­nual bid.

Chil­dress said Ten­nessee isn't im­mune to the de­clin­ing post­sea­son at­ten­dance. He said dur­ing the re­cent NFHS winter meet­ing held Jan. 3-6 in New York it was a topic that all asso­ciations were go­ing through.

"This is a na­tion­wide issue," Chil­dress said. "It is a na­tion­wide trend with at­ten­dance."

How do you fix it?

Mul­ti­ple fac­tors ex­ist when con­sid­er­ing game at­ten­dance, in­clud­ing price, weather and matchup.

Rain likely af­fected at­ten­dance mul­ti­ple weeks dur­ing the play­offs as teams playing on muddy fields be­came the norm. The TSSAA has no con­trol over that. How­ever, it does have say over the price and the matchups.

It costs $8 to at­tend a play­off game prior to the state cham­pi­onships.

High school reg­u­lar-sea­son games typ­i­cally cost around $6 or $7. But schools typ­i­cally of­fer sea­son passes at a dis­counted rate that aren't ap­pli­ca­ble dur­ing the TSSAA'S post­sea­son.

"Is it time for us to be cre­ative? Ab­so­lutely," Chil­dress said. "We even thought as a staff maybe we should of­fer a stu­dent rate. Not make all the tick­ets the same. Would that en­cour­age more kids to come?

"We've got to do some­thing. Ev­ery­one knows that in order to even make bud­get you are go­ing to have to de­pend on foot­ball and bas­ket­ball. Foot­ball and bas­ket­ball not only drive the as­so­ci­a­tion, but the schools also. They are los­ing also."

The num­ber of play­off games also has had an ad­verse af­fect. Early round matchups aren't ap­peal­ing. There were 49 schools in Ten­nessee that reached the foot­ball play­offs de­spite hav­ing a los­ing record.

"When it comes play­off time, the clas­si­fi­ca­tion struc­ture prob­a­bly takes more scru­tiny then than ever," said TSSAA Board of Con­trol mem­ber Jody Wright, an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal and boys bas­ket­ball coach at Ful­ton. "I think we prob­a­bly have too many teams in the play­offs.

"I can re­mem­ber the days when mak­ing the play­offs was a big deal. That's prob­a­bly why the first cou­ple rounds haven't drawn the at­ten­tion and ex­cite­ment level."

How­ever board mem­ber Bryan True, an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal at Loretto, wasn't too con­cerned just yet.

"You are go­ing to have years you are down," True said. "You have to look at the matchups. You have to look at the dif­fer­ent things that you have through­out the state. All we got is what we took in.

"Although it was lower, it's still not bad."

What does this mean?

Rev­enue gen­er­ated from foot­ball and bas­ket­ball post­sea­son tour­na­ments is key for the TSSAA to reach its bud­get.

Of the to­tal gross rev­enue from the 2018 play­offs, $691,213 went back to the par­tic­i­pat­ing schools. Of­fi­cials were paid $172,581.50 and $345,606.50 went to in­sur­ance.

That left the TSSAA $173,025 — down from $236,015.94 in 2018 (26.7 per­cent drop).

"We are go­ing to need to tighten our belts," Chil­dress said. "We're not go­ing to cut pro­grams. We need to be fru­gal in the of­fice."

It also could mean changes when the next clas­si­fi­ca­tion comes around in 2021.

"I think ev­ery­thing is on the ta­ble," Wright said. "I think you look at your price struc­ture to your matchups to your clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem.

"When it comes clas­si­fi­ca­tion time, you need to look at all of that."

Reach Tom Krea­ger at 615-259-8089 or tkrea­[email protected] and on Twit­ter @Krea­ger.

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