Loss of ticket revenue could catch up with sports programs

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

A sparse crowd watches the Naugatuck girls soccer game against Seymour Oct. 1 at Naugatuck High School. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

The bleachers were mostly empty this fall. They’ve been completely barren this winter. If they stay that way for too much longer, local athletics programs may start feeling a financial crunch.

Naugatuck and Woodland boast successful and generally well-supported athletics programs. None of that is likely to change amid or after the pandemic, as the major expenses required to play games are included in the districts’ annual budgets.

But the loss of substantial ticket revenue from limiting fans and canceling games could start catching up in other ways.

In Naugatuck, ticket sales fund 20-25% of the Greyhounds’ athletics budget, according to an estimate by athletic director Brian Mariano this past fall. Mariano said that annual ticket sales can amount to $15,000 in a down year to as much as $25,000 if Naugy hosts the Thanksgiving football game and successful teams draw big crowds.

That lost income can be compared to the savings gained by shortened schedules and the canceled football season

“Since the year has been reduced, a good deal of what we will lose on ticket sales will be made up from the reduced spending on officials, transportation, etc.,” Mariano said. “We will look to use the unused portion of this year’s budget to purchase things for next year. However, the savings from this year will not zero out what we need.”

Mariano cited uniform purchases and replacements as the area “where we can see the biggest struggle with the lost income this year,” potentially delaying the regular replacement cycle that most schools employ.

Woodland generally expects less income from tickets in a general year — athletic director Chris Decker estimated about $1,250 for a “good football game” and a few hundred for each basketball game — but the way the school handles those proceeds is different than they do it in the borough.

Revenue generated by ticket sales at Woodland “goes straight into our athletics account for miscellaneous stuff we don’t necessarily budget for,” Decker said. “Out of that fund, we buy stuff like plaques, pins, All-State dinners, and updating banners — those are expensive to update ($150 per banner), and it seems like we’re always winning division championships.

“We start off with $5,000 a year in that fund [from the previous year] and build it up throughout the year,” Decker continued. “We have the money we need for this year, but the problem we’re going to face is next year as we may not have that protective bubble to start with.”

Region 16’s budget funds essential expenses such as equipment, uniforms, costs for officials and transportation, and coaching stipends. For example, Decker said the region budgets about $23,000 per year for football expenses, not including salaries for coaches.

However, the loss of ticket revenue will negatively impact Woodland’s ability to purchase wish-list items that help improve the athletic programs.

“Sometimes we can buy a big-ticket item with ticket revenue, so that will be the real hurt,” said Decker, who noted that previous purchases from leftover ticket revenue have included cheerleading mats and batting cages. “Something like that is completely out the window for now.”

Decker said that because those items are nonessential, he won’t seek additional funding and will instead wait until fans are allowed to buy tickets to see regularly scheduled games.

“We’re going to have to deal with it as it goes,” Decker said. “I’m not going to ask the community for more money — that would not be understanding of life in a pandemic. If we have to go two years without replacing cages for our basketballs or buying a new trophy case, we can do that.”

Mariano is also confident that Naugy will be able to weather the storm.

“If we return to a normal year next fall, I think we will be fine,” Mariano said. “If not, we could really start to feel some strain. However, I cannot say enough how lucky I am in Naugatuck with the level of support for athletics.”