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Fewer home football games? A closer look at the financial impact for NU and Lincoln

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Nebraska vs. South Alabama, 8.31

Husker fans watch Nebraska host South Alabama on Aug. 31, 2019, at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska is hoping to keep the 375-game sellout streak going when it hosts Fordham on Saturday.

We knew college football, if played this fall, would look different in the midst of a health pandemic.

That hit closer to home Thursday when the Big Ten Conference announced the elimination of nonconference football games.

Not only is that three games pulled from Nebraska's schedule, it's three home games. The Huskers were scheduled to play Central Michigan (Sept. 12), South Dakota State (Sept. 19) and Cincinnati (Sept. 26), all at Memorial Stadium.

They currently have four home games scheduled: Sept. 5 vs. Purdue, Oct. 10 vs. Illinois, Nov. 7 vs. Penn State and Nov. 27 vs. Minnesota. If Big Ten schools play a reported 10-game conference schedule, the thinking is Nebraska would gain back a home game. On Friday, Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos told the Journal Star that he was hopeful of a 12-game conference slate.

So what kind of revenue hit will the Huskers and the city be facing if they lose home football games?

Moos has said each sold-out Nebraska home football game generates a combined $12 million in revenue for the NU Athletic Department and the local economy.

In 2018, the Huskers pulled in more than $5 million in ticket, concession and merchandise sales per home game, and that's before any conference television revenue or school licensing and sponsorship dollars were factored in.

The $32 million in ticket revenue and $5.4 million in concessions and merchandise sales over seven home games in 2018 represented one-third of the football program's $96 million in total revenue.

Even if schools are able to push forward with a Big Ten schedule amid the pandemic, one can assume stadiums will look much different in September and October than in any other season. That would mean a sizable dent in Nebraska's ticket revenue stream, and to the local economy.

Big Ten schools also receive money from the conference's lucrative TV contracts, and other media rights agreements. Nebraska received $42.6 million in media rights revenue during the 2018-19 fiscal year, and another $27.8 million in royalties, licensing, advertising and sponsorships, according to the athletic department's annual report.

Obviously, if stadiums are less than half full this fall — or completely empty — schools will become more reliant on the TV revenue.

According to a study by Syracuse University, of the 52 public Power Five conference schools studied, 84.6% received their largest share of funding from NCAA and conference distributions, bowl revenue and media rights. The media rights accounted for on average nearly 24% of Power Five schools' revenue.

The financial strain will go beyond the Husker athletic offices.

The elimination of nonconference games likely means at least two fewer Saturdays of Lincoln's downtown streets filled with red-clad fans, many of them arriving on Friday.

Lincoln's economy sees a boost of more than $5 million every time the Huskers host a home game, according to a 2013-14 study conducted by the UNL Bureau of Business Research.

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Though the study was done nearly seven years ago, it was completed after Nebraska's most recent expansion project — the East Stadium addition.

The study was led by Eric Thompson, the director of the UNL business research bureau, and it focused on the spending of fans attending games, but didn't include spending by fans who went downtown to watch the games in bars or tailgate.

Nebraska played eight home games in 2013, drawing a total of 789,200 fans, who combined to pump more than $40 million into the local economy.

According to Thompson's research, 69% of those fans were from outside of Lincoln.

Bars, restaurants, hotels and convenience and retail stores would take the biggest hits if there are limitations on fans attending home games.

"Obviously, there's certain classes of businesses that would be affected, and of course,  those are the same types of businesses that have been hard-hit by the pandemic in general," Thompson said Friday. "The overall Lincoln economy ... it would be noticed, but it's such a diversified economy, a very broad economy."

How college football will look this fall remains murky at best. What is clear: There will be some sort of ripple effect for NU and Lincoln that goes beyond dollars and cents.

"The other part of it is ... college sports are important in this state as a cultural activity, something that brings us together," Thompson said. "It would definitely be missed in that sense."

Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.

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