The Southern Miss football team seems to face a team or two on the road from a Power Five conference, usually from the vaunted Southeastern Conference. This year will be no exception as they will play at Alabama and Mississippi State. Sometimes the Eagles win, but most of the time they get demolished. What is the purpose of these matchups? The answer is simple: money.
Southern Miss will receive a payday of $1.2 million for playing at Mississippi State and $1.85 million for playing Alabama. “Each year we are going to play a guarantee game, and really the reason we do that is to balance the budget and to make our budget work and to do the things that we need to do to be competitive with the rest of our schedule and the rest of our year,” said Director of Athletics Jeremy McClain.
Although the football team earns the combined $3 million, the revenue will be divided among the entirety of the athletic department. “It goes into our budget bucket. It’s hard to say this dollar goes in and it’s assigned here, but it all goes into one place,” McClain said.
Power five conferences comprised of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Pacific 12, Big 12, Big 10 and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) schedule teams in Group Five conferences which includes Conference USA (C-USA), Sunbelt, Mountain West, Mid-American and American Athletic Conference (AAC) during non-conference play in hopes of adding another “W” to their record. In exchange for a tough opponent, Group Five teams receive large payouts. These types of games are known as guarantee games, which essentially means a Group Five team is guaranteed money for a guaranteed loss. However, fans of Power Five teams call them “cupcake” games because they’re expected to win.
While Southern Miss is not the only C-USA team to participate in guarantee games this season, they are the only team to have two in one season. The Charlotte Observer reports that the University of North Carolina at Charlotte will receive $1 million for a game at Clemson. The University of Alabama at Birmingham will see a $1.5 million increase in revenue for a game at Tennessee according to Volswire.
Senior finance major Josh Hodges understands the benefit of guarantee games.
“I knew we received money for playing Power Five teams,” Hodges said. “I’m totally fine with it. I think it encourages us [Southern Miss] to play high-quality competition while giving us the opportunity to show how good we really are.”
Junior nursing major Blakeney O’Brien agrees that Power Five opponents benefit the university.
“I think it is good for the school publicity-wise and financially. I feel like the money is being used to better our program and the campus,” O’Brien said.
While guarantee games provide fast money, McClain’s philosophy moving forward is to focus on home games.
“We want six home games and six road games unless we just get a really unusual situation which is kind of what happened this year,” McClain said. “You do get some money for going to play a road game, but you take a hit financially if you are not selling tickets and not selling concessions which you are selling at home games.”
In addition to guarantee games, during non-conference play Southern Miss host one Football Championship Subdivision team in which the university pays a significantly smaller fee. Alcorn State University will travel to Hattiesburg on Aug. 31 for the first game of the season.
“We are going to try to play opponents here who our fans get excited about and then also teams that can bring fans to our stadium,” McClain said. “Alcorn is a great example. They will travel well, and they will have a good crowd, so I think that’s important to us.”
Southern Miss set an attendance goal of 30,000 fans at all five home games in the 2019 season. In 2018 the highest attendance was 29,176 on Sept. 1 against Jackson State University. From there home game attendance dropped by over 9,000 fans and continued to decline for the remainder of the season.
“Attendance is huge, one of our biggest revenue streams is from ticket sales, season tickets and walk-up sales,” McClain said. “You have season ticket revenue then you have people walking up to the gate and buying tickets at the game. Hopefully, they are going to the concession stand and buying hot dogs and drinks. All of those things matter, attendance is a really big driver when it comes to budget goals.”
According to the 2018 athletics budget, over $2 million of the $4.9 million in revenue came from gate receipts alone. If attendance were to increase by 10,000 each game with an average ticket price of $15 Southern Miss would see an increase of $15,000 per game or $75,000 if the goal attendance was reached all five times.
“Will we draw 30,000 for every game? I hope so, that’s our goal,” McClain said. “Even if we are drawing on two or three thousand more per game than we have in the past then you can average that out to about $15 a ticket and that’s a significant bump.”
Hodges sees home games as an opportunity to support not only athletics but also the university as a whole.
“I go to games because I want to support my university,” Hodges said. “I’ll always be tied to Southern Miss, and one of the best and easiest ways to support is simply going to football games.”
Additional revenue comes from concession sales and television contracts. With the new sale of beer and light wine at home games, the idea is to increase concession stand earnings. McClain predicts the additional annual revenue from beer and wine sales to reach six figures.
Prices of other concession items have also been lowered in an attempt to increase the annual $153,000 in sales. All traditional food and drink items will be five dollars and below making game day more affordable.
Each game, regardless of whether it is home or away, is necessary in order for the athletic budget to function. Money makes the world work, even at Southern Miss.