Spartans Athletic Director Bill Beekman joins Russ White for an update on all things MSU Athletics on this edition of the MSU Today podcast.
“It has been a very active year for us,” Beekman tells White. “With the challenges of the pandemic we've been facing, it really is quite extraordinary. Our team has done a really special job. I would be remiss to not acknowledge the work of our athletic trainers as the sort of frontline workers in athletics. They have administered literally thousands and thousands of COVID tests, and they've provided athletic training support to over 700 athletes whose schedules were really compressed. With the exception of football, most were compressed into a very, very narrow window with all of our sports being in competition between January and now of 2021.
“We are very happy and lucky that we were able to get every team into competition, with the exception of women's gymnastics. Every other team had the ability to compete despite cancellations and postponements. I'm very excited that so far we have two Big Ten Championship teams; our women's cross country team, and most recently our women's golf team with a great win.
“I just can't thank our team enough. They've been so adaptable and nimble in trying to get things into the right place so that our student athletes could have every opportunity to compete. Much of our budget is tied to football. When we didn't have spectators in the stands for football and we were forced to reduce our number of games from a 12-game schedule to a nine-game schedule and then several of our games ended up being canceled due to pandemic related issues, that really affected our revenue stream. Our revenue decreased by about $80 million this year. We lost over half of our revenue and had to adapt very, very quickly.
“In the Athletic Department, we don't receive any revenue from the university in terms of tuition dollars or state appropriation. All of the money that is spent in Athletics is generated through Athletics. Much of that comes from television and ticket revenue, including seat premiums and the premium seating areas. When you buy a t-shirt with an MSU logo on it, the licensing component part of that comes to Athletics. When you see advertisements in the football program or hear them on the radio or see them on the video boards in the stadium, that revenue comes into Athletics for the rights fees paid for those commercials that you see. All of that comes in to fund the department.
“There are only about 25 schools in the entire country that can make that claim, that they are 100 percent sort of floating on their own bottom. To me, given my history largely on the academic side of the university house, I think it's very important that tuition and the appropriation go to academic purposes and our academic mission to keep that part of our university as strong as it possibly can be.
“We do fund ourselves. Hopefully the horrible years don’t come very often. I've told some folks that this is probably the worst financial year in the history of college athletics. But we will persist and find our way through it and have a Spartans Will attitude. We'll make it, but it certainly has not been without its challenges.”
What’s your current thinking on attendance for football in the fall?
“I think that we had a good experiment last week with the spring game. We offered tickets to 6,000 people. It was a little drizzly, so I think we lost a little bit of attendance due to the weather. We’re making progress on the vaccine front. Over the course of the summer, we’ll be watching Major League Baseball, NASCAR, and others to see how it goes as they slowly bring back more fans.
“I'm hopeful that as we get into the fall, we'll have robust crowds in Spartan Stadium. Whether that's 100 or 75 or 50 percent capacity remains to be determined. I remain hopeful that we'll have a good solid crowd with the band and the cheerleaders and the kick step into the stadium and some really, really good football.”
Beekman says donors to Spartan Athletics play a key role.
“When you look at most of our athletic facilities, those are all donor funded projects. Our donors are critical in that they allow us to try and take our programs to the next level. Some of our programs have absolute state-of-the-art facilities as a result.
“Mat Ishbia's gift of $32 million is spread across a number of activities. I'll mention two. One is improving our football facilities and helping them remain state-of-the-art. The other is tied to what Mat appropriately calls a Spartan For Life Fund. That fund really is tied to working with our student athletes while they're here on campus. Mat's very passionate about career services and the student athlete support process. We're very excited to get that program up and running this summer.
“As we continue with ticket renewals for the fall football season, I would just ask for people's patience. We're following the latest guidelines that come out of the CDC in Atlanta along with our state guidelines. We work hand in glove with the Ingham County Health Department. They've been extraordinary partners in this effort, giving us guidance on things like the spring game and other activities that we've had on campus. We'll continue to work very closely with them making sure that we're making every possible effort for our extraordinary Spartan Nation family to be able to see our young people in action this fall.
“And if you get a chance, I encourage you to get out and see a baseball game or a soccer game or a softball game. Some of our sports that maybe are not covered as widely in the newspaper or on television, but where the student athletes are competing every bit as hard.”
MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870 and streams at wkar.org. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.