University of Connecticut administrators kicked off a new, fiercer husky logo last month and promised new uniforms for all 24 athletic teams this fall. Some school officials say it isn’t about making money, but it obviously is. And it should be.
Replacing something people know with something new always sparks controversy and the new logo is no exception. While most of the conversation was predictable, UConn Athletic Director Ward Manuel offered one defense of the logo that was curious to say the least : “This is not about merchandising,” Manuel said. “This is not about our trying to change to make more money. This is to make sure our identity is clear.”
Most people aren’t fooled by this rhetoric but even if they were, there is no reason to hide it. Of course they want people to go buy new sweatshirts, t-shirts, hats, jerseys, and every other bauble and trinket that can be emblazoned with the new logo. UConn is an academic institution and a top tier athletic program, but it is also a massive taxpayer investment. People expect the investment to produce well-educated kids and they like it when they win national championships, but it also has to make as much money as possible to sustain itself.
While UConn seems to be doing well on the first two scores, the latter is questionable. The Yankee Institute’s Zach Janowski calculated the return on one component of the UConn investment, the head coaches of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and the football coach. In 2012, the three individuals – Jim Calhoun, Geno Auriemma, and Paul Pasqualoni – were the state’s three highest paid employees, with combined earnings of more than $5 million. Janowski compared the financial data for the 124 Division 1-A athletic programs to answer the question.
He found that UConn’s return on investment on head coaches is lower than 121 of 124 D-1 programs, though they still return about $6 in revenue for every $1 invested. In comparison, Ohio State’s investment in coaches returns $14 in revenue to the athletic program. At the University of Texas, the return on investment is nearly $13 per coaching dollar.
No one can blame the coaches for this shortcoming. Their accomplishments are hard to rival: 8 national championships in twenty years for women’s basketball, 3 national championships for the men’s basketball team since 1999, and the football team appeared in the Fiesta Bowl in 2011. The coaches are clearly doing their jobs very well.
Someone should tell Mr. Manuel that the problem isn’t too much focus on making money but too little. If the new Nike-created logo will help move merchandise and the athletics teams continue to support that logo with outstanding accomplishment while wearing it, there is no reason the UConn brand should not produce revenue as well as any other brand in America.
In fact, a more commercially viable logo rightly appears to be just one component in the University’s overall effort to earn a bigger return on the money already invested there. New President Susan Herbst deserves high praise for calling attention to the role UConn must play in the state’s economy. She describes her aim to do “much, much more” to commercialize the intellectual property produced on campus and partner with the private sector to bring it to market. Intellectual property, for example, is already big business in Connecticut. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, there are 665,570 private sector jobs supported by IP in Connecticut, responsible for more than $76 billion in economic output.
Grabbing more of that pie is imperative. Taxpayers invest nearly $300 million each year at UConn but this accounts for just 28 percent of operating costs according to Herbst. Capital costs and the other huge investments made there – like UConn 2000 or the proposed Next Generation Connecticut cost billions more. All this spending occurs before one parent writes a tuition check. Yet the budgetary trends point toward a future UConn that is effectively self-sufficient, either through budget cuts, tuition hikes, or through UConn’s own efforts.
President Herbst clearly understands this reality and the coaches are doing their part. So there is no need to soften the blow, Mr. Manuel. Just do what you have to do.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com